Southold School District

Southold parents say students are being denied first choice on electives

FILE PHOTO | Southold High School parents are concerned about their children being signed up for multiple study halls.

Some Southold High School parents have expressed concern that a cost-saving measure is preventing their children from getting into their top-choice electives. The district says that situation is avoidable — if students pursue other, less popular options.

Southold PTA president Jennifer Conway told the school board during its Aug. 28 meeting that she’s received feedback from parents whose children are signed up for multiple study halls instead of the electives of their choice.

“I think it’s sad if a child wants to take accounting or any other elective and they’re being told they can’t,” she said. “I think that’s a tragedy, that children want to learn and, instead, we’re saying we can’t afford it, so here’s a study hall. Here’s two study halls. Three study halls. That’s crazy to me.”

Ms. Conway said school officials have told her the district isn’t able to offer more electives because it can’t afford to pay additional teachers to teach a sixth period for popular electives that require multiple sections.

Superintendent David Gamberg said in an interview this week that the sixth period arrangement is used primarily to avoid having to hire a full-time teacher when existing staff can handle existing demand by taking on one more period.

The district’s contract with teachers was last negotiated in 2008. The agreement states that teachers with more than five classes scheduled daily receive an extra annual stipend of 20 percent of their base salary per additional period.

That contract took effect July 1, 2008, and expired this past June 30. But in April 2011, the district and teachers union finalized a memorandum of agreement extending the contract for two years, to the end of the 2014-15 school year.

Mr. Gamberg said the only items negotiated in the extension an agreement that teachers would give back $2,000 in salary per year toward health care costs (resulting in total estimated savings of $200,000) and would accept 2 percent annual raises.

Mr. Gamberg said electives offered over the past two years essentially haven’t changed. Some sections have been added, he said, and some dropped — and most of the changes have been dictated by student interest and dwindling enrollment. The superintendent said the district has been successful in balancing program variety with what taxpayers can afford.

“I would love to see more and more opportunities, but I don’t think the record suggests that there’s less,” he said of the electives.

Mr. Gamberg said he believes students wouldn’t have to take study hall if they were willing to enroll in their second- or third-choice classes and said various electives and extracurricular activities are still available.

“We have some students who don’t have time for lunch,” Mr. Gamberg said. “They want to have an opportunity to participate in ROTC, in AP classes, in electives. They aren’t sitting in study halls.”

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