All of the classrooms have been cleaned out, the floors polished
and the furniture scoured. The Port Chester School District is prepared to open
its doors to students for a full day of class on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The Port Chester schools will have their doors open for 181 days
for students and 185 days for teachers, with nine emergency closing days built
in to be used for urgent maintenance issues and inclement weather. In the past
years, the district only had two or three days built in, but Superintendent Dr.
Edward Kliszus thought that wasn’t enough. Although the previous winter was
mild, Kliszus wanted the extra days just in case the cold and snow decided to
bombard Port Chester this year as it has done in years past.
Overall, Kliszus is excited and ready for the “ongoing daily
challenge” school brings.
“It’s all about providing for our kids,” he said. “Our teachers
and administration have high expectations for these students.”
The superintendent is also very aware of the demographic of his
students and knows putting an emphasis on helping all of them will be a huge
focus of the school board. In terms of population, Port Chester schools are
diverse and many of the students are first or second generation U.S. citizens. Although
Kliszus is thrilled to be able to support this diverse of a landscape, it isn’t
without obstacles. Funding is a large problem for the Port Chester schools. They
are normally funded at 45 percent of what the district is supposed to receive,
but this year, the state funding, especially foundation aid, decreased to 36
“We need foundation aid restored,” Kliszus said at the Wednesday,
Aug. 31 Board of Education meeting. He hopes to begin a political campaign for
foundation aid advocacy as soon as possible, especially because every year is a
guessing game for the Port Chester School District—the administrators never
know how much funding the schools will receive from the state. To Kliszus, this
is not okay, especially with the amount of diversity Port Chester schools have
in their student bodies.
Immigrants and the minorities in the district are getting the
short end of the stick for funding, Kliszus explained. Although no plans are
currently set in motion with the Board of Education, working around the funding
roadblock is high on the district administration’s “to do” list.
“I was talking to a group of community people and I asked how
many of them were first and second generation. Everyone put their hands up,”
Kliszus said. “They are among the most motivated people ever. For a young
person to come here, they are incredibly motived, hungry to learn and hungry to
be a success. It’s always exciting to see energy in our young people.”
Despite the funding shortfall, the Port Chester School District
is still hiring, planning and moving towards the future. Over the summer, the
district hired three new community coordinators for the elementary schools and
20-25 new staff and faculty.
But the lack of funding is not the biggest project the district
will tackle this year. Overcrowding remains the highest priority.
How to overcome overcrowding
A Bond Advisory Committee has been put in place and was approved
unanimously by the Board of Education during their Aug. 31 meeting. The committee
consists of 30 community members. They are: Rosemarie Barone, Joan Carriero,
Thomas Ceruzzi, Thomas Corbia, Susan-Anne Cosgrove, Kenneth Force, George Ford,
Ana Isabel Gonzalez, Stephen Greto, Gregory Guarino, Jody Helmle, Richard
Hyman, Maureen Josephson, Joseph Lodato, Laura Luzzi, Heather Mateus, Kevin
McFadden, Keith Morlino, Chrissie Onofrio, Denise Quinn, Patricia Rinello, Eric
Rios, Elizabeth Rotfeld, Lou Russo, Jennifer Sanders, Debra Scocchera, Stephen
Simmons, Patricia Sutton and Albert Wesley.
Although their initial cap was 25 on the committee, the board
decided they could not eliminate anyone.
“These people are invested in our schools one way or another and
it wouldn’t be right to eliminate any of them,” Board President Jim Dreves
The group’s primary goal is to address overcrowding and present a
management plan to the school board in November. This way, the community has
input on how to handle the issue, as the last attempt at a bond failed in
December 2015 mainly due to limited public participation.
Kliszus did not leave the team uninformed. He sent them all the
narration and ideas drawn up by Fuller and D’Angelo P.C, Architects and Planners.
All 30 of the members were presented three past options the architects created:
adding onto Port Chester High School, a new building at Port Chester Middle
School or transforming Park Avenue School into a ninth grade academy.
The first option still faces the same resistance to build
anything at Port Chester High School, so Fuller and D’Angelo came up with the
ideas to either add onto the corner of Tamarack Road and College Avenue or take
away some of the parking lot on Tamarack Road for an expansion.
The Board of Education is also revisiting an idea they had in
2014 to relocate either fifth or ninth grade to an addition at the Port Chester
The third option is to convert Park Avenue School into a ninth
grade academy and build additions at John F. Kennedy School and King Street
School for the displaced elementary students.
The committee will deliberate these options, meet with the
architects to ask questions, and will enumerate their concerns for each option
as well as ways to improve them. Their first meeting, which is open to the
public, is on Sept. 13 from 6-8 p.m. in the Port Chester Middle School
auditorium. The committee will be addressing the architects, asking questions
and bringing forth any concerns they have about the options. The goal is for
the members to present a plan to the Board of Education based on their work by
“Enrollment in high school is growing every year; we’re already
above capacity,” Kliszus said. The overcrowding affects the teachers just as
much as it does the students. Kliszus sees his faculty struggle to find an
empty room during their preparation period as only one or two rooms in the
school are empty during the day. In addition to that, having too many students
means cutting down on what courses can be offered and makes it harder to add
more classes, as the schools simply don’t have the room for new equipment.
“It’s not something new, it’s ongoing,” Kliszus said.
“The building project is to manage it,” he continued. “We’ve kept
the buildings in shape, but we need to address overcrowding. Elementary class
sizes are among the highest in the county. We are at the higher end with about
22-27 kids per class, but the normal sizes are 18-22. We’d like to lower class
Giving students a choice
At the end of the day, even though their students might all have
to sit in a class with little elbow room, Port Chester puts an emphasis on feeling
comfortable in school and graduating with options.
When he was younger, the Port Chester superintendent loved
school. He remembers a few teachers who made him feel respected and cared for,
which made him look forward to seeing them every day in the classroom.
“I want everyone to have that teacher,” he said. “My whole
premise is a couple things. I want classrooms to be a place of joy and
happiness. It may sound silly, but it’s for real.”
“We want to have kids graduating with choices and options,”
Kliszus continued. “We want to give them as many choices as possible.”
“No one is dictating what they should do, we want them to have
all those options. Too many people are told when they’re young that you’re
going to do this when you grow up, and that’s wrong,” he concluded.