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How To Cut - Painlessly

It looks like program cuts are on the horizon for the 2013-2014 school year in Jericho; much of the discussion at the most recent school board meeting was about how to make cuts as painless as possible.

Wrapping up a series of budget workshops, Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs Victor Manuel explained that while the tax cap is commonly referred to as “the two percent tax cap,” a complex formula actually determines how much districts can increase their budgets in order to come in under the legal cap. However, even with the ability to go over two percent without requiring a supermajority (which Jericho can do), there are significant challenges: for one thing, NYS Mandated Employer Contribution Rates to retirement systems and health insurance premiums will see a nearly $3 million increase in 2013-2014. The increase to employee benefits represents by far the biggest increase in the budget, and it is non-negotiable.

To make up for these increased costs, the administration recommends re-organizing staff around retirements (presumably choosing not to replace several staff members who are retiring), and changing the existing Literacy Coaches to reading teachers, getting rid of the Literacy Coach position. However, a representative from the Cantiague Elementary School PTA responded that her school has seen great results from the coaches and supports keeping them on in their current positions. In response, board members said that they would examine other ways to save money without losing the coaches.

The other recommendation is to cut middle school intramural programs. Interscholastic, competitive athletic teams are not on the chopping block. But  some intra-school athletic programs for grades 6,7 and 8 may be discontinued. Parents of middle school students voiced concerns about this choice, but once again, board members pointed out that these recommendations were not final.

The district does have the option with moving forward with no cuts to program, however doing so would put the budget over the tax levy limit and require a supermajority (60 percent) to pass.

A full review of the budget will take place at the next board meeting on March 7, while the board is scheduled to adopt the budget on March 14. Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget at both meetings.

But there were also many congratulations. Two athletic teams, the girls’ swimming and diving team and the girls’ volleyball team, were recently recognized as Scholar-Athlete Teams, meaning they maintained high academic averages while keeping up with a demanding athletic schedule. In other accolades, the district’s five Intel semifinalists (Sonia Joshi, Sam Lam, Brendan Liu, Michael Shen and Raymond Wu) were recognized, as well as their research coordinator, Serena McCalla, who was honored as a Teacher of Merit by the Intel Science Talent Search.

The Intel Semifinalists thanked McCalla for her commitment to their projects, and expressed great regard for her as both a person as a teacher. Sam Lam said that McCalla is “like a second mother to us.”