The NAACP is challenging Malverne school district's plans to reduce staffing of teachers in the business department, saying with many college students pursuing careers in business and finance, they need to get a start on those classes in high school.

The school board unanimously voted Tuesday night to adopt a proposed $40.82 million budget, a 2.06 percent tax levy increase over last year. The district plans to use $2.3 million from reserves and other funds to supplement the budget. About 14 teachers could be affected by staff reductions, either through layoffs or fewer work hours, to help save the district about $1 million, officials said.

"Unfortunately this year, the tax cap formula isn't working to our advantage," said RosaLinda Ricca, assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction, adding core classes such as English, math, science and social studies will not be affected.

Bea Bayley, president of the Lakeview branch of the NAACP, said in the past two years the district, whose student population is 55 percent black, cut the business department from four teachers to two. She said the move was to retaliate against Sherwyn Besson, an African-American business teacher at the high school who filed a lawsuit in 2011 alleging that he was made part-time after he objected at a board meeting in 2009 to the hiring of current superintendent James Hunderfund. The board has denied the allegation and explained the decision was based on staff seniority. The case is pending trial in July.

"I continue to ask about staffing and the decisions to cut and where because, I said this before, 24 percent of college students go into a business field and you have totally stripped the business department," said Bayley, who suggested the board use some capital improvement funds toward operational costs to save teachers' jobs.

Before the board meeting, Bayley and about 20 others gathered for a prayer vigil by the flagpole in front of Malverne High School hoping that the school board would change its mind.

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"We did make changes to meet some of the requests and concerns of the public," said board president Marguerite O'Connor, whose district serves Malverne, Lakeview and Lynbrook.

Business classes will continue to be offered, but the time devoted to those classes by those teachers will be reduced and taught with one full-time teacher and another part-time teacher, Ricca said. About 190 students are enrolled in the elective course now, but next year it would be offered to more than 225.

"We're not getting rid of business classes," Ricca said. "We are offering the same amount, but we are going to maximize our students in the class by having 24 students in the class versus seven or nine."

The school board will hold a public hearing about the budget on May 13 at 8 p.m. in the Malverne High School library.