Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 03 February 2012 00:00
Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Gordon presented a preliminary budget at the Jan. 24 Port Washington Board of Education meeting. Due to the New York State tax levy cap, the school district needs to cut about $2.6 million from the budget in order to come in under the allowed growth of 2 percent.
“I think that the important thing for everyone to realize is this is a preliminary discussion and the board has asked the administration to present what the 2 percent tax levy cap implications would be,” said Dr. Gordon at the beginning of this presentation. In order to come in under the tax cap, this preliminary budget showed many potential cuts to staff, programs and supplies. As outlined in the presentation, Dr. Gordon explained that there are two options to prevent these cuts. One option is to override the tax cap law by obtaining a “super majority” in the budget vote, which would be 60 percent of people voting “yes” on a proposed budget increase of over 2 percent. He said that the other option would be to work with the school district’s bargaining units to gain concessions from existing contracts to reduce the tax levy below 2 percent without losing student programs and/or excessing staff.
The possible nonstaff cuts included some of the following reductions in funding: out of district programs (Gen Ed), CIA support material programs, high school and elementary supplies, guidance supplies, PPS supplies, arts (programming), technology (support/supplies), middle school textbooks, ESL supplies, and SAT/ACT scheduling. These potential cuts would add up to a budgetary savings of $624,000.
The possible staff cuts included some of the following reductions: two security aides, substitutes (transition days), community liaison, five elementary teacher assistants, one middle school teacher assistant, four clerical positions, four elementary sections, one elementary art program, six PEP teachers (five elementary, one middle school), two middle school teachers, and four high school teachers. In addition, the possible cuts showed a reduction of approximately 124 units of co-curricular teams and clubs. These potential reductions would add up to a savings of $2,116,000, and with the $624,000 added to this number, the total budgetary savings would be a little over the $2.6 million that needs to be cut from the budget in order to come in under the 2 percent state tax cap.
School board members provided their initial thoughts and reactions after the presentation and asked for more information on specific cuts. Board member Sandra Ehrlich brought up the fact that there are still a lot of unknowns for next year’s budget and asked Dr. Gordon to provide further detail on these specific matters.
Dr. Gordon said that one of the unknowns was the exact number of retirements. “We have been able to save significant dollars in the past on attritions, retirements and rollover savings, so we do not know at this time of any retirements and will not know until Jan. 31,” he said. He further explained that it is more beneficial for the school district to obtain savings through retirements and attritions, because the district would have to pay $20,000 in unemployment insurance for excessed staff members. “We will know more about this the first week of February, for the first budget presentation on Feb. 7,” Dr. Gordon said, adding that there could also be significant savings if the bargaining units made concessions by this time.
“I know that this has not been an easy task for our administrators, and I want to thank you for all the work you put into this,” said School Board President Karen Sloan. “The next meeting is the first official budget hearing. By then we will have more information and we will have a chance to mull this over and perhaps have some further discussion on what areas we need to look into a little bit more,” she added.
In closing, Dr. Gordon said, “This community needs to know upfront just how serious this issue is, because under state law every district has budget hearings in February and March prior to adopting the budget, and I think that the board’s concern of making sure that issues are as clear as they can be is going to, in the long run, give us the best chance to come out of this in the best way possible. We have a great community and a great staff, and I am confident that looking at the worst case scenario and the most difficult situation in a clear way, as the board outlined, is going to be the best way to proceed.”
The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. at Schreiber High School. This meeting will be the first budget hearing.