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Hempstead schools looking at staffing cuts in 2015-16

Hempstead trustee Shelley Brazley questions the budget presentation

Hempstead trustee Shelley Brazley questions the budget presentation at a sparsely attended public hearing at Hempstead High School onTuesday, May 5, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Hempstead school district, which has struggled since fall with an influx of new students, could cut 100 positions by next school year, Superintendent Susan Johnson said during a budget meeting Tuesday night.

It's unclear how many teachers are included in that figure, though the district predicts the moves could result in larger class sizes and cuts to art and music programs.

Johnson said there were no further details at this time.

"It's not finalized yet," she said of the possible cuts.

The district has proposed a roughly $190 million budget for the 2015-16 school year -- a 2.69 percent increase over the current budget of about $185 million. The proposed spending plan would stay within the tax cap.

Hempstead, which has been under state scrutiny for its failure to properly enroll unaccompanied minors and for numerous fiscal problems, has absorbed 1,558 new children this academic year, Johnson said Tuesday night.

Nearly 1,000 of those children have needed bilingual services, she said previously.

Of the newcomers, 332 were unaccompanied minors, Johnson said. Those students, mostly from Central America, arrived here illegally last summer and are staying with friends and relatives in Hempstead. They are legally entitled to an education in the district where they currently reside.

Johnson said Tuesday that the Hempstead district has spent roughly $6 million from its reserve funds to accommodate the new children, with $5 million spent on additional staffing and $1 million on furniture, supplies and other materials.

The district also had other unexpected expenses, Johnson said, including a $200,000 bill for a special election ordered by the state after former board president Betty Cross was removed from her post. She ran again and was defeated by Maribel Toure.

As for the new students, district officials have said they were overwhelmed by the increase and that they had run out of space and teachers for them. Advocates for the immigrant children said their civil rights were violated by the enrollment delays.

Hempstead administrators have said money was already stretched tight before the children came and that any delays in seating them -- they started school several weeks late and at an off-site campus -- were the result of strained resources.

The district last month hired a firm to serve as an independent monitor to oversee enrollment as was required under an agreement with the state attorney general's office.

Around that same time, the district faced another crisis. On April 15, a Hempstead middle school teacher was attacked on campus by a parent who eventually threw her against a wall, put her in a headlock and tossed her to the floor. A female student and relative of that parent punched the educator in the head, rendering the teacher unconscious, authorities said.

Both the woman and her niece were charged with second-degree assault on school grounds, a felony. Annika McKenzie, 34, was also charged with second-degree strangulation.


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