Larger classes decrease teacher efficiency

To the Editor:

On June 10, the Guilderland School District released a building capacity report, created by Dr. Paul Seversky. The report was created with the purpose of determining efficiency of space and teacher use in the district.

This was done in hopes of saving the district money and closing the budget gap.   In this report, Dr. Seversky provided data that supported his proposals of how the district can most efficiently run the buildings and use teachers in the most economically efficient manner — that is, increasing class size and the teacher-to-student ratio to the highest level possible and acceptable by the district.

As a teacher who teaches in the Schenectady City School District where class sizes are maxed out to 30 students per classroom, I can assure you that increased class size does not improve teacher efficiency.  Each additional student in a classroom further decreases the efficiency of a teacher, despite Dr. Seversky’s claim that Guilderland is not utilizing its teachers efficiently with lower class numbers. 

Since the building capacity report was released, there has been a growing movement by the residents of the village of Altamont.   A wave of panic rushed through the village with parents, citizens, and even children becoming emotional and concerned.

The villagers have united and are speaking out in order to try to protect one of the village’s greatest resources — its elementary school.   I think that it is very important to all of the community members in the town of Guilderland to know that the citizens of Altamont are not trying to wage a campaign of “us” against “them.”

We are concerned about the impact of closing any school in the district.   I have spoken with a large number of citizens who are trying to find ways to communicate their concerns and to show support for keeping Altamont Elementary School open.

Our goals are simple:

— To help to inform all citizens of the Guilderland community of the value of keeping Altamont Elementary open;

— To gain as much information as possible about this building capacity plan, the resources cited within the plan, and the individual who was hired to write this report and make sure that all community members have this information; and

— To push the school district to think of alternate ways in which to save money that does not involve closing any school building.

As we have become more familiar with this building capacity report, we are learning that some of Dr. Seversky’s data is inaccurate and taken out of context.   It is imperative that the school district and its citizens consider alternative ways of cuttings costs that do not rely so heavily on one person’s paid-for report. 

During the board of education meeting Tuesday night, I was pleased to see that each member of the board is eager to save money and to spend frugally whether it involves use of district-provided cell phones, substitute-teacher rates, or cost of special-education programs.

This tells me that this board is willing to find other ways to cut costs and still provide a quality education to our children.  I hope that the members continue to ask these questions, but I also hope that they also continue to discuss this building capacity plan and that they look at the numbers involved but also that they stop to think of the families and students that will be impacted by some of these proposed plan.

So why have the citizens who live in the village of Altamont reacted so quickly and loudly?  It is a matter of numbers.

Four out of the six plans proposed by Dr. Seversky involved closing Altamont Elementary.  We are being told that decisions have not yet been made and that this is a work in progress.  I certainly hope that is the case.

It was quite intimidating to hear Dr. Seversky present his data and to read the report knowing that, in a majority of the scenarios, closing Altamont Elementary School is the best option with the least amount of impact.   Dr. Seversky hinted that it is the smallest school with the least amount of students who would be impacted by its closing.

There is an entire village of community members who disagree.  The people who live in Altamont simply want the school board, the superintendent, and the members of the Guilderland Central School District community to know that we are part of the Guilderland community but we are somewhat unique.

We are a village within a town.  We pay school taxes and town taxes and, in addition, we pay village taxes.  We have a mayor in addition to a town supervisor.   We have village activities all year long and a large number of them involve the elementary school. 

Last night, at the end of the board of education meeting, a board member wanted to make sure that it was known that all of the communities in Guilderland are important.  She had attended the moving-up ceremonies of Westmere and Guilderland elementary schools and said that she believes that every community in Guilderland is special.   We know that and agree.

I encourage members of the communities of the other four elementary schools to become involved in the focus groups and to become informed.  Go to the board of education meetings and attend the community talks that will be set up by the district regarding the building capacity report.

Be an informed citizen, an informed parent, and an informed voter in school elections.    Any school closing will impact all of the students of our district.

Erika MacFarlane

Altamont