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Malverne Schools Chief Recommends Major Budget Cuts

Summer school, arts and athletics, and faculty placed on the chopping block.

"No one should be happy with this budget," Richard Banyon, assistant superintendent for the Malverne school district said Tuesday night as officials presented their latest version of the 2012-2013 budget.

With the exception of the Regents Prep program, all summer programs, including summer school and summer recreation, would be eliminated completely next year if the Board of Education accepts all the recommendations currently proposed by Superintendent James Hunderfund. Also, included in Hunderfund's plan, which was presented to the board and residents at the Feb. 14 meeting, are major reductions to art and music in the elementary school, athletics in Grades 7-12, non-mandated electives in the high school, and co-curricular activites in all four of the district's schools. 

It also calls for the elimination of an elementary school librarian and more than 20 full-time equivalent staff positions including two adminstrative and 14.5 teaching. Class sizes would increase across the board in Kindergarten through Grade 12 and there would also be cuts to pupil services, textbooks and equipment, and the special education inclusion model.

"We've gotten rid of over 30 positions in four years even though we have had very little change in student enrollment," said Banyon, who repeatedly described the current situation as "dismal." In the past, the district has been able to bring back most if not all of the employees whose positions were excessed by tapping into federal aid and offering retirement incentives, but Banyon said he does not expect this will be the case this year.

The presentation, which can be viewed in its entirety here along with the line-by-line budget that is currently proposed, provided a comprehensive lesson on what the district has done to cut costs in the past, the state of its expenses, revenue and reserves, and how the new tax cap, unfunded mandates and sky-rocketing employee benefits are affecting it now.

If the district stays under the tax cap, it could only raise the budget $505,221, a percentage increase of 1.06 percent from last year. To put this into perspective, in each of the past 12 years the district has raised its budget by more than $1 million. In nine of those cases, the budget increase was $1.5 million or higher. 

The district is already required to spend more than $500,000 -  roughly $575,000, on implementing new mandates including Academic Intervention Services (AIS) for students that don't meet the new standards introduced last year for state testing, Race To The Top (RTT), Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) to evaluate teachers, Common Core Curriculum (CCLS) and three others that officials explained are all costing the district money. For instance, APPR will require the district to administer local assessments to its students, which they must purchase from a third-party test-maker, in order to evaluate their teachers.

"These companies make a fortune and we have no choice but to comply," Banyon said. Starting next year, the district will then also have to pay a third party to grade its standardized tests, including Regents exams.

Employee benefits, which account for more than 20 percent of the district's budget, are also expected to rise by $759,771 - again, more than $250,000 over what the district is permitted to increase its total budget for 2012-2013. As these expenses continue to rise, the district has been forced to take more money away from classroom instruction (See charts above). 

Bottom line, the district will need to eliminate more than $1.9 million from its rollover budget (the amount needed to maintain all current programs and positions while factoring in cost increases.) if it adopts a budget that conforms to the tax cap. This budget would result in a 1.59 percent tax levy (the amount taxpayers are responsible for) and would only need a 50-percent voter approval to pass.

The board does have the option of putting up a budget that exceeds the tax cap and would require less cuts, or even no cuts at all, but the tax levy would be higher and more voters (60 percent) would need to support it.

Whatever the board and residents choose will not just affect the 2012-2013 school year, as the business adminstrator Thomas McDaid explained during his report on the district's revenue and reserves.

McDaid said he regrettably is tapping into the district's reserves to offset the decline in tax revenue that will result if the board adopts an austere budget. He anticipates using $400,000 from the district's $6.5 million reserves. Without it the district could only increase the budget by a mere $300,000. 

The problem is, McDaid explained, if the district continues to adopt lean budgets, it not only won't be able to replenish its reserves but at this rate, the fund could be completely depleted by 2014.

"Then, you're looking at a negative budget increase," McDaid says. "It's not a pretty picture." 

Dr. Hunderfund concluded the presentation by saying, "This is a very somber moment. I apologize for bringing the bad news…We are going to have to use everyone's will to go forward and construct a solution to this difficult problem."

Going forward, the board will be holding several work sessions, which will be open to the public, to discuss the budget. The first one will be held on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. Look for more coverage on Patch.

Which of these three options do you think the board should pursue? Vote in the poll below or share your thoughts in the comments section.

Concerned Resident February 17, 2012 at 12:47 AM
This is a start! Now it is time to take back our schools! The administers must take deep cuts in their salaries or they should resign. The district needs people that have current experience in the classroom so they can see what teachers are dealing with. Our children do not have a solid foundation in core subjects. It is time to go back to basics and drills. At this board meeting look at how many teachers are going to be paid for AIS services before testing. Honors cources, honor society means nothing when you lower the required grades. Testing will eventually be given on the computer but our children are not taught how to use them. Ask your kids about behavior in the school buildings. I have and I am disgusted! Those children that want to learn can't with all the disruptions. If we don't demand change I'm afraid we will never be able to sell our homes.
Cathy Schiller February 22, 2012 at 12:24 PM
I am so sick of Malverne residents always taking the drop for these schools. Exactly how many kids living in Malverne use this high school? As for the grammer school level, I am sick of paying such high salaries to these teachers, and of course we are stuck paying for their retirement also. Do you really think that the seniors are going to stay here to foot these teachers salaries? No way !!! Use your brains--the next generation to move here will probably not make the money that we did in our earning years. Keep pushing us and believe me---Malverne will have empty houses, empty store fronts, and no one here for you to clean out their pockets.
concerned parent February 25, 2012 at 02:54 AM
The Malverne School District needs to keep the welfare of the children first! We seem to lose sight of what is IMPORTANT, the education of the students. To expect teachers to teach in classrooms with a 25 to 1 ratio with no support, get rid of art and music at the elementary level when you have the BEST marching band in the country is outrageous!!! MALVERNE ADMINISTRATION, WAKE THE HELL UP!!! Do what is right for your district, even if that means taking money out of your six figure pockets. I bett


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