VINELAND - Sara Cano sat quietly in the back of Landis Middle School's auditorium Tuesday night with a small sign posted to her shirt asking that school board members not cut the district's adult education program.
As other Vineland residents and school employees rose during the school budget hearing to voice opposition to proposed cuts of adult education and 82 district jobs, she never rose to speak publicly at the podium.
Cano doesn't speak fluid English, after all. That's why the Mexican immigrant and mother of three started taking English language classes two weeks ago at Vineland's adult education program, the only program south of Camden to offer high school equivalency programs in Spanish. Cano wants to do more than just clean houses for a living.
"I need to learn more English. I need it to help my children," Cano said, hesitating to find the right word - communicate - which she needed help with, "and so I can get a better job."
Vineland school board members gave local residents the opportunity Tuesday make their case for what needs to remain in the school budget and what needs to go. Some, such as Cano and two classmates, made it with silent demonstrations, while others - many of them district employees - publicly voiced their appeals.
It was what some school board members said in advance that they wanted to hear: A collection of appeals and suggestions on how to balance a $190 million budget for which the district lost more than $20 million in anticipated state funds. Board President Frank Giordano professed in advance that the budget was a "fluid document" and could change, not just until the school board election but all the way to June 30, if circumstances change. One thing changed already: Summer school will not be cut, at the direction of the Cumberland County Superintendent's Office, Giordano said.
One instructional aide praised the school board and offered to give up three in-service days in hopes that it could save enough money to maintain 33 part-time playground and cafeteria aides at the city's elementary schools.
Anna DeNovellis, a recruiter for Wawa convenience stores, asked the district to maintain a program - and the employee who runs it - that lines up high school students for work at Wawa stores, largely at the chain's expense.
Instructor Richard Boone said he respected the board's difficult position but insisted adult education was worth keeping.
"I think you have something in Vineland that is unique," Boone said.
Some critiques were harsh, though. Former school board president Eugene Medio questioned board members' competence for hiring an assistant superintendent shortly before they announced 82 job cuts.
"No one in the public believes that you need that position but you don't need someone out on the playground watching the kids," said Medio, who is running a school board seat.
One of those playground aides, Lisa Reimels, questioned the line item that said cutting playground aides would save the district $502,869. She said she works 17.5 hours a week at Dr. William Mennies School and makes $7.87 an hour. That works out to $5,784.45 over 42 weeks, about the length of her work year. If other aides made about the same as her - she conceded some probably make more because she has worked only three years for the district - that would work out to $190,886.85.
"I was like, ‘Wait a minute, where are they coming up with this figure?'" Reimels said.
School board members said they would continue working on the budget, which goes to a public vote April 20.
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