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High kindergarten enrollment in New York Mills; school must cut $20K before adding another class

For the first time in over a decade, New York Mills kindergarten enrollment numbers justify an additional section.

But before the school board will support the hiring of a fourth teacher, Superintendent Todd Cameron and business manager Marsha Maki have to find a way to cut $20,000 in expenses.

Kindergarten enrollment numbers currently stand at 67 students, with an additional student enrolling next week. This leaves the kindergarten class sizes right around 22 or 23 kids per room. If there were to be an extra section, the class sizes would be down to 16 or 17, which is what the student to teacher ratio was in kindergarten last year.

Though enrollment numbers make the decision seem necessary, school board members said in a meeting Monday that the district's budget does not easily support an extra teacher, which costs close to $40,000 after benefits.

With kindergarten students typically garnering only half as much state aid for the district as other students, the increased revenue won't necessarily be enough to pay for a fourth teacher.

NY Mills kindergarten teacher Barb Tumburg came before the board to explain why it is necessary to hire a fourth teacher.

"My primary job as kindergarten teacher is to make those students feel secure," Tumburg said. With too many kids, the necessary one-on-one time throughout the day doesn't happen.

"I'm begging for what is right for kindergarteners," Tumburg said.

Though the school board agreed that small class sizes were important, especially in kindergarten, the board was concerned about the cost of an additional teacher.

Rachel Geiger said, "It's a difficult call because we don't have much of a fund balance."

Tumburg did not deny that adding a session would have a cost, but reiterated the importance of keeping class sizes down for the sake of the kids. She explained how kindergarten rooms have become more academic over the years, and how lower student counts are necessary to help ensure student success.

Tumburg brought up another point - enrollment is already high, and typically August is full of late enrollers. Tumburg said in her 34 years of teaching in NY Mills, she has never seen an August without an increase in enrollment. Just six more kids would put the classrooms at 24-25 pupils per teacher.

Though the board agreed that kids need smaller class sizes, they feel that part of their job is to ensure the school is fiscally balanced.

Over the next week, Maki and Cameron will be looking through the budget, hoping to find ways to reduce costs so the board will support a fourth session of kindergarten. Cameron said it is "very likely" the administration will be able to find the $20,000 over the next week to help hire that teacher.

"We want to be frugal, but not at the expense of someone else's department," Cameron said.

Keeping class sizes small is important, he added, and finding ways to cut expenses will be worth it.