"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.