Massapequa Stands Strong in Face of Shake-up in State Budget

Written for May 2009 issue of Massapequa High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Chief. Position at time: Editor-in-Chief

“We’re not going to get out of this quagmire we’ve built until we reduce our spending,” said NY Gov. David Paterson in a November news conference. This statement came after the governor proposed $5.2 billion in cuts to the state budget in an effort to reduce the budget deficit of $15 billion, according to the New York Times.

The loudest uproar over this proposal comes from the fact that education, along with health care, is experiencing the largest cuts in state aid of all the sectors, which has Long Islanders worried about how this will affect the students in New York State schools.

The proposal calls for each district to be charged for a “deficit reduction,” in which the state takes away aid money from each district. Instead, this money is earmarked to fill the budget gap.

Mr. Alan Adcock, assistant superintendent for business in the Massapequa School District, confirmed, “Massapequa would not receive two million in aid money.”

Since Gov. Paterson announced the proposal in November, on a Feb. 27 visit to a fellow Long Island school he said that much of the $2.9 billion that New York will receive from President Obama’s stimulus package will “take the deficit reduction to schools and restore it with the federal aid,” according to Mr. Adcock. However, Mr. Adcock added that he has yet to receive written confirmation of this in a press release, and any numbers are unknown at this point.

Despite Gov. Paterson’s assurances that the stimulus package will negate the education cuts, more than 1,000 teachers, librarians, parents and students gathered at Alan Park in Farmingdale on Feb. 28 to rally against his proposed budget. Determined to make their voices heard to the seven state senators and eight state assembly members in attendance, the crowd carried signs with assertive slogans and chanted, “We want our fair share.”

Alongside the impassioned crowd was MHS’s marching band with trumpets, flutes, and drums in hand (or on torso) to boost the energy and make the Massapequan presence and support known.

“It was a great feeling knowing that people are showing they care about the future of their students,” said senior Jackie Nelson. “I was there as drum major directing the marching band, fighting for better funding and recognition for this music department that we already fight so hard for just to get respect.”

When any school budget faces the possibility of experiencing cuts, the music and arts programs are presumed to bear the brunt of the losses. However, Dr. David Gaines, curriculum associate for music, said, “I don’t see the music department being hit differently from other departments.”

This should ease any concerns that MHS’s beloved holiday concerts and spring musical will be affected, or worries that the music theory and history classes will be diminished.

“We are not anticipating any changes,” said Dr. Gaines. “Everything should remain status quo.”

Echoing Dr. Gaines’ affirmations is Mrs. Lucille Iconis, assistant superintendent for elementary education. “The Board of Education is committed to maintaining high caliber and innovative programs that the Massapequa School District has become known for.”

The outcome of the May 19 budget vote will be an indicator of how the Massapequa School District will be able to maintain its high caliber. Although this will be the smallest budget increase in 10 years at under 3.5 percent, Mr. Adcock said this budget is still a “good thing” for the district because “we’re able to continue all of the great programs without making any wide-scale changes.”

Over the past several years, Massapequa School District has grown increasingly more efficient in terms of rising graduation rates while maintaining a relatively low cost per student in comparison to other Nassau county school districts. Massapequa spends $18,872 per student, the fifth lowest cost per child in the county, and about $4,000 less than the country average of $22,894 per student. The school district with the highest cost per child is the Lawrence School District, spending about $31-32,000 per student.

The real value of these numbers can only be comprehended when juxtaposed with the graduation rates. In 2000, 63 percent of seniors graduated with a regents diploma, and by 2008 the number grew to 93 percent. Seventy-one percent of the class of 2008 graduated with an advanced regents diploma, up from the class of 2007’s 59 percent—close to double the state’s average of 39 percent of seniors per high school receiving an advanced regents diploma upon graduation. (Statistics of seniors graduating with an advanced regents diploma prior to 2007 were not available.)

“It is so gratifying that 68 percent of the last year’s graduating class completed one or more college-level courses and that 71 percent of that class earned a regents diploma with advanced designation,” said Mrs. Susan Woodbury, assistant superintendent for secondary education. “That means that our students are taking advantage of and are succeeding in the core instructional program, as well as in the array of career building electives that are offered in our secondary schools.”

Sentiments of confidence in Massapequa’s students were expressed across the board. “The kids have been doing really well, from the elementary students on the state exams and the secondary students on Regents exams,” Mr. Adcock said. “We don’t want to make any changes. We want our students to continue to achieve.”


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