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Akron school principals outline top needs for 2012-13

Adding two full-time teachers for special education and reading -- and three sections of math classes at Akron Central Middle School are listed as the top three of nine needs ranked by administrators for 2012-13.

The three school principals outlined the reasoning for their top requests at last week's Board of Education meeting.

The report is the initial part of the budget process. The board will hear about potential reductions in an executive session Jan. 11, which will also be aired at a public session Jan. 25. On Feb. 1, it will get a full report on the tax levy cap of 2 percent, state aid, and fund balances and reserves, and on Feb. 15, a complete priority of needs, reductions and cuts.

Interim Superintendent Dennis Ford, who has held a number of budget preparation meetings with administrators, said at the outset, "I could add 25 more things to the list, but the goal was to be real and to present what would have the greatest impact" on the district.

"These are priority needs, but it doesn't mean others aren't important," he added. Noting that the district has eliminated about 30 positions within the past three years, Ford said, "It's showing, and you'll hear the effects tonight."

The other six ranked needs include: restoring the high school assistant principal to full time, add a half-time math support specialist to the elementary school; restore the districtwide psychologist to full time; add a part-time districtwide social worker; add a part-time special-education junior clerk; and increase the hours of a microcomputer technical support specialist to full time.

Middle School Principal Anthony Panella, who this fall also assumed the duties of director of curriculum, instruction and student services, said adding the special-education and reading teachers (the latter would have dual certification in English) would help reduce class sizes and "allow teachers to compartmentalize and co-teach." And this would aid in meeting state assessment standards on tests, he added.

He said the number of middle school special-ed students "outnumbers the staff available to appropriately serve them."

Adding three sections of math, which can be handled "in-house" and possibly with no cost impact to the district, would also allow for reducing class sizes in specialized programming like math labs and the honors classes.

Ranked fourth on the list is restoring the high school assistant principal, currently Taweepon Siminski, to full time. Because of a resignation last summer, she was assigned additional duties of special-education director.

High School Principal Joseph Lucenti said reductions and elimination of positions including the school resource officer, full-time assistant principal and social worker "have left the current staff overwhelmed," particularly in dealing with at-risk students.

They have behavioral problems related to dysfunctional family situations, drug or alcohol abuse with accompanying low attendance and low achievement.

"We see kids reaching out for help, and there are not enough hours in a day," said Lucenti, who also strongly backs restoring the districtwide psychologist to full time.

Elementary School Principal Todd Esposito said, "We have a Band-Aid on math AIS [academic intervention services]" in advocating for adding a part-time math support specialist. He said under current staffing "only some of the students at the low end are being supported by the math support specialist and none of the students at the high end."

He also would like to add a full-time instruction support specialist to reduce caseloads for the reading specialists.

Siminski also asked to increase a half-time psychologist in special ed to full time. The program now has 2.5 psychologists. With Response to Intervention as a mandated program as of July 2012, she said the psychologists "play a significant role in identifying students with disabilities."

And she said adding a part-time junior clerk was needed to augment the one full-time special-ed clerk in handling all the regulatory paperwork in a timely manner. Also not on the ranked list are "needs" cited by supervisors of non-instructional staff as presented by Cynthia Tretter, district business administrator/treasurer.

These included adding a part-time laborer to buildings and grounds; additional hours for a clerk in the business office; and increasing the hours for the head bus driver, who assists Transportation Director John Wideman. The district now shares Wideman with the Clarence School District.