Hempstead School District trustees last night approved a nearly four-year contract for Superintendent Susan Johnson, shortly after community leaders, parents and students rallied against budget cuts.
About 30 people protested outside Hempstead High School Thursday, demanding the school board stop creating high-paid administrative positions at the expense of students. "We don't want cuts to the classroom," said Fatimah Jeffries, president of Jackson Main Elementary's parent-teacher association.
Jeffries called for improved school transportation, more textbooks and smaller classroom sizes. "If there must be cuts, it has to be at the administrative level. The cuts need to be at the top, not the bottom," Jeffries said.
At a special meeting last night, the school board unanimously approved Johnson's contract, retroactive to November and extending through June 30, 2016. The terms of the contract were not disclosed. "My team and I will not let you down," Johnson said to cheers from parents attending the meeting.
The critics claim the district's proposed $178.8 million budget for 2013-14 includes $2.7 million in cuts to teaching positions for English language learners, students with special needs and elementary students, while allocating $3.7 million to create administrative positions and increase salaries of existing administrators.
"We are here to bring to light that they are cutting from the budget," said Mimi Pierre-Johnson, an organizer for the advocacy group New York Communities for Change. "You cannot keep cutting from the kids and adding to the administration."
Board president Betty Cross insisted that the budget would not reduce teaching positions. "That's absolutely not true," she said after the meeting. "We will still have the same staff."
The proposed budget calls for a 2.99 budget percent increase and a 1.98 percent local tax levy increase, which is within the state tax-cap limit of 2.87 percent.
The budget also includes the addition of 17 staffers, with assistant principals at all elementary schools, more teachers and elementary reading and math specialists. There would also be added advanced-placement classes and smaller elementary and secondary classes, district officials have said.
The district elections will be held on Tuesday.
The board voted 3-2 last month to fire five top administrators -- four principals and a science director -- without public explanation.
The board also approved a plan to dissolve the three college preparatory academies -- each with students now in grades 9-11 -- and the Senior Academy, with 12th-graders, and consolidate all four grades under the name Hempstead High School. The plan requires state approval.
"I don't feel we should have the academies anymore," said high school senior Gadd Guerra, 17, at the meeting. "We are one school and one student body. We shouldn't be separated."