The Glen Cove Board of Education was presented with a preliminary budget this week that would be 1.5 percent higher than last year as a result of decreasing state aid. The board was informed that negotiations with unions to avoid cost-controlling layoffs would not come to fruition.
Last year's budget was $67,502,044. This year's preliminary proposal is $68,532,119. This is a $1,030,075 increase.
Superintendent Dr. Lawrence Aronstein started off the presentation stating that currently the district does not know what amount of aid it will get from New York State, so it has to work with the governor's original proposal of a 15.5 percent decrease in aid to Glen Cove.
The superintendent did add that in positive news, federal recovery actions calls for grant monies to be sent directly to school districts and he expects that Glen Cove will receive $1,033,000 in aid above and beyond the grants that the district usually gets. These would come in the form of Title I and IDEA grants. Title I is for disadvantaged students and IDEA is for special education.
"We can use part of that to offset about $400,000 worth of salaries," Dr. Aronstein said. "This improves the budget picture for next year."
He added that $50,000 in staff development costs would be offset as well, as they could be taken out of the operational budget and paid with this grant money.
Regarding the budget needs of the schools for next year, the superintendent said that district enrollment is flat at the elementary, middle and high school levels, so no adjustment will be needed for student enrollment changes. The changes that will raise the budget are various fixed costs which continue to go up every year, primarily health insurance premiums and Teachers Retirement Systems contributions. The schools expect a health insurance increase of about $300 per employee and said that retirement contributions are projected to increase at about 0.5 percent each year.
During the budget breakdown, it was explained that salaries and employee benefits make up about 75 percent of the total budget. Because of this, cutting costs means cutting jobs.
"That is where the money is," Dr. Aronstein said, "Education is labor intensive, so to cut spending, we have to take a look at salaries and benefits. The rest of the costs are either insignificant or their prices are fixed."
Outside of layoffs, the schools do have some personnel savings due to two retirements.
The staff reductions in teaching positions will mean the elimination of 10.4 jobs. Teaching assistants will be cut by two positions, nurses by one, monitors by two-and-one-half, administrators and supervisors by two, security guards by two, clerical by one and facilities staff by two.
On the cuts in personnel, Dr. Aronstein said, "The pain is being shared across the whole spectrum."
During public comment, it was asked whether or not, in hard budget times, management and labor can work things out so no or fewer job cuts occur.
Dr. Aronstein said that with the board's direction at the start of the year, he did approach labor unions with a proposal in this regard.
"We would promise not to cut jobs in the various unions if that union could take a 0 percent increase for the year. Those units that have 'step increases' would still get those increases."
The "step increases" are contractual raises that come in addition to other increases. These increases average around 3.5 percent per year for the first 15 years, the 20th, 25th and 30th years.
"So if they get a 3.5 percent increase plus a step increase, that is actually a 7 percent increase," Dr. Aronstein said. "We told the unions, we can give you the 3.5 percent step if you forgo the other 3.5 percent. Every unit turned us down."
Aronstein said that the public asked if he and his central office administration would take a 0 percent increase and they said yes.
Layoffs, according to state law, would go on the basis of seniority, with last hired as the first to go. Employees receive unemployment benefits and there is no severance package.
Regarding capital projects, although the bond was defeated, the district maintains that their capital needs remain the same.
"The critics of the bond said you can pay for some of the necessary repairs through the operational budget, and that is what we are doing," Dr. Aronstein said.
$490,000 is budgeted in the proposed budget for these capital improvements.
On estimated revenue, the district said that state aid is the most important issue. They currently project a loss of $1,300,000. Separately, earnings from invested funds will be down $325,000, they estimate, due to declining interest rates.
As a result of these projections, the schools are down roughly $1.6 million, which has to be made up in local taxes. The tax levy would increase 4.88 percent. The superintendent said that this is a "relatively small amount" compared to the loss of state aid and other revenue.
With all that said, the school administration expects that with the tax relief aid going to the state most or all state aid could actually return. Dr. Aronstein said that $2.5 billon that the state is getting in tax relief aid has been earmarked for education, particularly so that teachers are not laid off.
"This whole picture is cloudy and is very much dependent on the state's budget and how much aid will be in that budget for the schools," he stated.
If possible, the superintendent said his recommendation to the board of education is that he would like to put back the $2.5 million in cuts the district's budget proposal has right now. This would include the salaries eliminated by the proposed layoffs.
By law, the state legislature is supposed to have its budget in by April 1. Some years it has been much later.
"For now, you don't really know what you have to work with," Dr. Aronstein said.