The Lawrence School District is planning on eliminating 18 pre-kindergarten positions at the — nine teachers and nine aids — and implementing the University Pre-K Program, a partnership which would replace these positions with 18 recent graduate students from a Long Island university.
Superintendent Gary Schall explained that since Lawrence is currently under a 2 percent tax cap and forced to cut $3.2 million from the budget due to mandated increases, the University Pre-K Program would be the best choice for the district. The current universal pre-k program costs the district roughly $1.7 million, he said, while the new University Pre-K Program would operate under a $570,000 lump sum grant.
“We’re saving over $500,000 on this plan,” Schall explained. “We are hoping that we have our positions reduced by attrition.”
The program is part of the district's budget plan that would also eliminate four positions at Lawrence High School and the number of periods there from nine to eight. The plan will be voted on by the board of education at the April 30 budget meeting.
Dr. Ann Pedersen, principal of Number Four School, attempted to reassure the crowd of concerned teachers and parents that the students' education will not suffer.
“We don’t want to change what we have,” Pedersen said. “We will not have a university impose on the curriculum.”
Even with this reassurance, , president of the Lawrence Teachers' Association, left the meeting with reservations about the new program.
“You can't compare a brand new teacher with someone who's been teaching for 20 or 30 years, like some of these pre-k teachers,” she said. “If they weren't in the hole for $3 million, would they be looking?”
Jesse Lunin-Pack, while committed to sending his son to pre-kindergarten in the Lawrence Public School system in the fall, also questions whether this is the right program for his child.
“Is this the best way to educate our children, or is this the least bad choice to save money?” Lunin-Pack asked. “If this program is going to happen, the best thing would be to find a way to include experienced teachers in the classroom.”