Highland abolishes positions

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 6/12/24

Last week the Highland School Board officially abolished a number of positions due to a shortfall in funding: one Administrator in tenure area of Instructional Data and Assessment; one teacher in the …

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Highland abolishes positions

Last week the Highland School Board officially abolished a number of positions due to a shortfall in funding: one Administrator in tenure area of Instructional Data and Assessment; one teacher in the tenure area of Remedial Reading; one teacher in the tenure area of Foreign Language; one teacher in the tenure area of Social Studies; one teacher in the tenure area of English; 0.4 teachers in the tenure area of art; one teaching assistant, one teacher aides and one district wide custodian.
Ericka Babineau, chair of the Highland Art Department, with her colleague Les Castellanos by her side, came to the podium during public comment, saying that it is important for the board and for the community to understand the full impacts of these cuts, specifically the steep reduction in the employment of Casey Gallagher, one of the district’s four art teachers.
Babineau said 43 percent of the total number of students in Highland participate in an art or music class, adding that more than a quarter of the entire student body is taking an art class.
“By reducing the Art Department staff by 0.4, the potential impact on art programs is inevitable,” she said, noting that at the elementary level the clay and ceramic program may possibly be eliminated as well as extracurricular art activities, such as the “widely popular” elementary Art Club.  
Babineau said a decrease in staff “allows for the decrease of the overall budgets of art and supplies and materials. This may be prohibitive to some students as they may be unable to fund their supplies independently.”
Babineau warned that reducing staff limits the availability of Studio Art classes, which are required for graduation. She said this decrease will conversely increase the demand in music classes, “and overwhelm our music department. We will see an elimination of our National Art Honor Society. We will see a decrease in staff [which] means there’s a decrease in elective art classes, including Advance Placement Drawing and Painting and other college level classes. The elimination of art classes will prohibit students from building a sequence of classes they need to develop a portfolio that is necessary for college acceptance, just like our student athletes depend on access to sports and just like our advanced students require access to AP courses for scholarships and college admissions. Our art students deserve the same opportunities.”
Babineau believes this issue can be “completely restored” with $35,000.
“I don’t want to tell any of my students that their dreams are impossible; I want to make their dreams possible,” she said. “It is my hope that any additional funding that comes down from the state level and is received by this Board of Education that you use these monies to restore teaching positions and programs that directly impact our students.”
Later in the meeting the board announced that the district will be receiving $50,000 through the efforts of NYS Sen. Michelle Hinchey. The board did not say how this money will be allocated.
In a subsequent interview, Babineau said Casey Gallagher “is a fabulous art teacher and she is devastated; she has a calling at the elementary school.”  
Babineau expects Gallagher may leave the district for a full time position in another district.
“That’s what happens when you make these threats and reductions;  some of your best and brightest go elsewhere and it would be an incredible shame,” Babineau said.
Babineau said reductions like this have a domino effect upon the entire K-12 art program. Apart from being a requirement for graduation, “it’s also a place of peace for many of our students. Art is the reason some of our students get up in the morning and come to school. It is an essential part of the mental health for many of our students.”