Teacher Reassigned at Haldane

Also, state aid less than district hoped for

By Lily Gordon

Students and parents at the April 4 Haldane School Board meeting protested the administration transferring an eighth-grade English Language Arts teacher to library duty.

Two students presented what they said was a petition containing the signatures of more than 200 middle- and high-school students opposing the transfer of Anna Pearce.

“It is my job to express to you, the administration, the concerns we have with the recent demotion of Ms. Anna Pearce,” said Abigail Duncan, the junior class president. She said students understood that Pearce would be moved from her classroom to the library effective April 18 “because of a complaint made by a few students.”

According to one source, Pearce was accused of teasing two male students about having a “bromance,” which Merriam-Webster defines as slang for “a close nonsexual friendship between men.”

Pearce and Superintendent Diana Bowers did not respond to requests for clarification, and it was not clear if the complaint was behind the move. School Board President Jen Daly said Pearce has been teaching at Haldane for 18 years.

“I don’t think that it was sufficient cause” for the move, Lourdes Laifer, a vice president of the Haldane PTA, told the board. “If the students in question believe that they were being called gay — I mean, that’s not what that term means — but certainly if there was a misunderstanding an apology would’ve been appropriate. But to derail her career and remove her from the English department doesn’t feel right.”

Another Haldane parent, Maeve Eng-Wong, called Pearce “a shining star in the middle school. She is certainly not conventional … We all know and love that about her; the kids know and love that about her.” She said her sons “haven’t stopped talking about Ms. Pearce not being in that classroom.”

Daly said board members and administrators could not discuss personnel matters but that such decisions are not made “willy nilly.” Bowers later said she too could not comment on the matter but said, “She’s going to do an awesome job in the library and we’re happy she’s there.”

In a letter to eighth-grade parents, Middle School Principal Julia Sniffen wrote that “Mrs. Pearce has elected to pursue an open vacancy in the library for the fourth quarter of the school year” and that she would be replaced by fifth-grade teacher David Dougherty, who is certified to teach middle-school English Language Arts. At the April 4 meeting, Jennifer Rabe was hired by the board to take over Dougherty’s fifth-grade class through the end of the school year.

In another move, Patricia O’Rourke, who is teaching this year at the Haldane Academy, an alternative high school, resigned as of June 30 but will continue to serve as a substitute. The academy was told by the state it must move from the St. Basil Academy property in Garrison after this school year if it continues to be run by the school district.

State aid

Planning can be tough when the state won’t say how much money it will provide beyond estimates released in January. At the school board’s meeting on April 4, Business Manager Anne Dinio said the district should plan as if the state would not be providing more money than it had for previous year. In that scenario, the district faced a $126,000 deficit.

To eliminate that, Bowers suggested:

  • Reducing teacher development funding by $15,000.
  • Planning for three sections of second grade (instead of four) and hiring a part-time teacher to help with English and math blocks, for a savings of $50,000. Second-grade homerooms would most likely have more than 25 students in this scenario.
  • Modifying the number of support services personnel in classes, possibly through attrition, for a savings of $30,000.
  • Spending $5,000 less on furniture at each school, for a total savings of $15,000.
  • No longer accepting first- or second-graders in the summer kindergarten transition program for a savings of $10,000.
  • Reducing the technology budget by $5,000.

The board said it didn’t feel comfortable cutting a section of second grade. “New furniture is a luxury,” said Daly. “Class size is not a luxury.”

After the state finalized its numbers on April 7, Haldane learned it would receive $15,000 more than the January estimate, a 6 percent increase in total aid over last year but not enough to cover the projected deficit, which is now about $111,000, Dinio said.

In Garrison, the district received $881,867 in state funds, or about $1,000 less than expected.

Lawmakers in Albany increased state aid for education by 4.4 percent overall, putting another $1 billion into public schools.

2017-18 State Aid to Public Schools

The amount of money given by the state to each district is calculated in large part on the relative wealth of its residents. Line items include educating students with disabilities, technology, transportation, building maintenance and funding to BOCES, which provides districts with support services. Funds are also provided for “high tax aid,” which is sent to districts where the property taxes are high relative to income.

Haldane Garrison Beacon
Students 833 221 2,866
Tentative budget $23.5 million $10.6 million $68.6 million
Total state aid $2.94 million $881,867 $28.1 million
Increase $171,855 (6%) $12,678 (1.5%) $867,806 (3%)
Foundation aid $1.6 million $524,162 $18.5 million
Pre-K programs 0 0 $373,181
BOCES $253,035 $62,230 $831,579
Disability $120,522 $2,166 $1.4 million
Technology $67,419 $25,508 $283,520
Transportation $216,323 $43,096 $2.1 million
Buildings $491,254 $104,480 $4.6 million
High tax aid $194,828 $120,225 0

8 thoughts on “Teacher Reassigned at Haldane

  1. My daughters both loved having class with this teacher. It doesn’t seem right that our children should lose the benefit of one of the best and brightest due to what appears to be a misinterpretation of a commonly used, non-offensive contemporary term.

  2. School Board president uses the term “willy nilly” when describing the decision making process. What a way to represent that school district.

  3. I had Ms. Pearce the first year she taught at Haldane (which I can not believe was almost 18 years ago). Not only was she an excellent teacher, but she was also integral in the maturing process of many adolescents on the brink of their teenage years. Students were able to relate to Ms. Pearce and, because of that, open up to her. She did an excellent job of being available to her students, while always maintaining appropriate boundaries, which I am sure is a difficult line to balance on when dealing with middle and high schoolers who notoriously push boundaries.

    The administration should consider the experience of the hundreds, even thousands, of students she has taught in the 18 years she has spent at Haldane, and the rest of the students in middle school this year. These students that have been developing a relationship with Ms. Pearce since September and will now have a different teacher dropped on them in the last three months of school. The administration should also consider the students that Mr. Dougherty will now be leaving a few months before the end of the year.

    It is difficult to understand why the education of all of these other students has taken a backseat to a seeming overreaction. And, just to reiterate, a bromance is a male friendship. It does not imply homosexuality at all. It is not a sexualized word. Ms. Pearce has been an element of what makes Haldane great for many years and a disservice has been done here. I hope the administration reconsiders its decision in this demotion. Good luck, Ms. Pearce, you have my support.

  4. Why not give the Board of Education the time it needs to resolve this and keep quiet in the meantime? I doubt we can (including myself) because social media captures us, lures us in and makes us forget that yes, there is an adult teacher involved, but there are students involved, as well. Let’s shut down our iPads, iPhones, etc. and let the BOE take action, or not, before we respond.

  5. I covered Haldane for five years as a reporter and worked as a school public relations person for several other Westchester and Putnam districts for another dozen years. I always found these situations to be the most challenging, both as an outsider and an insider. “Personnel issues” was the term most often used as a shield by administrators and boards to protect teachers and other staff from being “outed.” When students were involved, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was invoked.

    While I know it’s really frustrating to be an active, involved parent and not know all the details of a particular decision, in my experience there was usually more to a story than either parents or students could discern. Even veteran, beloved teachers can make poor choices and violate rules. While the community may never know exactly what happened in this particular situation, I’m pretty confident that no one at Haldane is taking these decisions lightly.