Public outcry wasn't enough to sway the Loyalsock Township School Board from passing a proposed final budget that cut eight paraprofessionals from full-time to part-time Wednesday night.
The budget was passed with a 6-2 vote - board members Christina Kiessling and Stephen Dewar were the two votes against it - and included a 0.25 mill property-tax increase. The district still is facing an $85,000 deficit.
But the part of the budget that didn't sit well with the public at the meeting was the cuts to paraprofessionals.
Sandy Born reacts to the board’s decision to approve the budget. Born is a paraprofessional who works with a student with autism and has been with the student for six years.
Theresa Moff, a mother of a special needs student, said the board should cut wants, not needs.
"They provide the vital extra assistance," Moff said. "All of these services are needs and not wants."
Pam Temons, who also has a son with special needs, spoke about the work and progress that her son, Daniel, has made thanks to the help of
his aide. She said although specialists predicted he would be unable to talk or form emotional connections, he has been able to do both.
"None of this would have been possible it weren't for the tremendous support we received from (the district)," she said.
She added that while those who have aides still will be provided with it, the person who fulfills that position could change.
"He's still going to have the service but he's not going to have (the same person) and that's important, too," Temons said.
The metaphor of the district as a boat helped Kirk Bower, Loyalsock Township Education Association president, make his point during public comment.
"Crews bring ships home. Don't cut the crew," he said.
He explained that while the captain of the ship is important, it's the crew - much like district teachers and staff - who make the operation run smoothly.
Bower thought of the comparison when he heard district administration say, "We're in this together."
"I think we forget about the people when making these decisions and just look at the positions," he added.
Although most wanted to focus on students with special needs who would be affected, senior Micheal Harrison said the work of paraprofessionals does not go unnoticed by all. To show support for them, Harrison was able to gather 160 signatures of students without an individualized education plan (IEP).
"Everybody is helped by these people," he said.
Harrison explained that paraprofessionals also help other students with work. He said when a teacher is overwhelmed with student questions, aides jump in to give assistance.
It would not be unusual for him to stop an aide in the hallway to ask a question and for them to stop what they are doing to help.
"These are the people that go behind the lines to help everyone," Harrison said. "You need to consider that's who you are letting go."
Board member David Hornberger said that while it's "heart-wrenching to hear these stories," the board needs to be "fiscally responsible."
Business Manager Gerald McLaughlin said the district is doing what it can to balance the budget. He said some measures the district is taking is requiring a yearly activity fee for athletics of $50 and charging $10 for physical exams. The district also is considering charging admission for soccer games, which McLaughlin said it never has done before.
The board also unanimously voted to increase adult admission $1 to varsity and junior varsity events.
In other business, in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, the district also will raise lunch prices 10 cents for students and 25 cents for adults. McLaughlin explained that the USDA is requiring districts to gradually increase lunches until they equal $2.75.