Superintendent outlines possible program reductions

Saying that she doesn’t want to propose cuts to programs, Superintendent Susan Swartz is also faced with the daunting task of filling a now $339,000 shortfall and balancing the 2018-19 budget.

Developing the 2018-19 budget has become more complicated since the first budget draft was presented on February 12, a draft that included a $1.3 million budget gap with no additions.

The annual community budget vote will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15 at the B-wing high school gymnasium. The community will also decide on a bus purchase proposal, capital project and elect two members to the Board of Education.

Swartz has already presented a combination of non-program reductions and additional fund balance, including a one-time transfer of $400,000 from the tax certiorari reserve account, that totaled $956,000. That left the current shortfall of $339,000.

Swartz outlined program cost reductions in three options for the Board of Education last night. “I don’t like any of these and I wish we didn’t have to even consider them,” she added.

She noted that, in the absence of a substantial increase in state funding, the proposed cuts would be the only way to bridge the gap between income and costs in the coming school year.

She expects the Board of Education to adopt the 2018-19 budget at its Monday, April 9 meeting. The board meets at 7 p.m. at the Middle School cafeteria.

Here are the options she presented:

Option A: eliminate the lead teacher for instructional technology position, $22,000 savings

Option B: offer half-day kindergarten, eliminating the need to hire four elementary teachers to replace the four teachers retiring this year, $345,492 savings. S-G now offers full-day kindergarten. Kindergarten is not a requirement under state education law.

Option C: eliminate two teaching assistants, four aides/monitors, late buses, field trips, $265,838 savings

Saying she was still optimistic that the state would provide additional state aid, the board still has to consider ways to fill the budget gap. “I fought for some of these things, so it really pains me to now propose eliminating them,” she said.

She also said she would consider using an additional $50,000 in fund balance to bridge any gaps as the board continues its budget review.

As for the half-day kindergarten option, she said “I don’t think this is the best option, but it fills the budget gap that we have.” She said the only school district in the area that still has half day kindergarten is Shenendehowa, and that’s because there is not enough building space there  to expand to full day.

Board members asked questions about all of the options but indicated they would not support eliminating full-day kindergarten.

“I don’t support going backwards with kindergarten,” said Board President David Bucciferro. “We have seen the benefits of doing that (full-day program) and I don’t want to go backwards.”

He said he favors waiting until there is a state budget, which is due by April 1, before making any decisions on the three options.

Board member Gary Normington said that the daycare and preschool network in place when S-G had a half-day kindergarten program is not as strong now. “We will have a whole lot of people scrambling to figure out what to do with their children if kindergarten is only half day,” he said.

Bucciferro also said he didn’t like cutting teaching assistants and teacher aides because they serve the most disadvantaged students, in many cases. “It’s heartbreaking that we would take away something that so many children need but I guess it may be unavoidable, unfortunately,” he added.

However, the budget proposal does not include implementation of a mental health program or additional security at the schools as board members had discussed earlier. Swartz said she would like to add the mental health program and is working with the Glenville and Scotia police to develop a school security proposal.

Bucciferro added that the school district’s third phase this summer of the 2015 capital project will add technology, cameras and other items designed to boost school security.

Board members also learned that, if the budget were defeated on May 15 and the board adopted a contingency budget, that would require an additional $1.325 million in budget cuts. Swartz said those reductions would reverse most of the program initiatives made over the past several years.

On Feb. 12, Swartz presented the “roll over” budget totaling $56.4 million. The “roll over” budget means that no programs would be added or deleted from current offerings.

However, and including the maximum state tax levy limit of 3.46 percent, that budget would increase spending by 6 percent and left the $1.3 million gap.