Apr 23, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Cazenovia Board of Education increased this year’s budget by nearly $70,000 last night, specifically to prevent the proposed layoff of a popular high school social studies teacher who for months has had a multitude of public support urging the board to save her job. The money to pay for her retention will come out of the district’s fund balance reserve account and will not necessitate an increase in the proposed tax rate or an overriding of the state tax levy cap.
While teacher Mary Kate Lonergan saw her job saved at the board’s April 22 meeting, four other district positions were eliminated from the budget, as were two assistant coaches for boys lacrosse, two modified basketball teams and the JV girls softball team.
After more than an hour of discussion, including strong disagreements between members about funding the social studies teacher position, the board approved by a vote of 4-2 its preliminary budget of $26,419,662, which includes a 4.93 percent tax levy increase. Board members Leigh Baldwin and Patrick Vogl voted against the budget in opposition to the addition of the $68,000 for Lonergan’s position.
Both Baldwin and Vogl strongly opposed the budget change, which was made as an amendment to the originally-presented budget of $26,351,662, saying that by taking money from the district’s reserve accounts — which will eventually run dry — the board was only “kicking the can down the road” in terms of facing fiscal insolvency.
“I do not think this is fiscally responsible,” Baldwin said, stating that the board has used anywhere from $233,000 to $1.3 million from the fund balance account each year for the past four years. “How long until we implode? If this was a business we couldn’t do that.”
After the meeting ended, Lonergan accepted congratulations from a number of supporters.
“I feel very flattered and valued,” said Lonergan, who has been a teacher in the Cazenovia district for five years. “I feel validated because I want to be here, and I want to stay here and now I think I can.”
The possibility of Lonergan being laid off had been in the air for months, but it was publicly announced just before the school board’s March 18 meeting. More than 60 residents attended that meeting, including numerous high school students, and many speakers suggested or demanded cuts from other budget areas to save Lonergan’s job. Lonergan was characterized by multiple people then – and at all subsequent school board meetings – as one of the best teachers in the district and a life-changing mentor and role-model for her students.
These arguments clearly had an effect on members of the school board, some of whom began talking at the board’s April 15 budget work session about ways to increase the budget specifically to save the social studies teacher’s position. That conversation continued at the April 22 meeting when board Vice President Karin Marris declared that the board should not cut the social studies position. She said the district administration’s justification for the layoff was enrollment-based rather than funding-based, and that was not a good enough reason to lose a great teacher whom the school needs. “I don’t think it would be fiscally irresponsible to maintain her,” Marris said.
Vogl and Baldwin argued against the addition of Lonergan’s salary into the proposed budget as a move that was bad fiscal policy and also set a poor precedent. Baldwin said that if the board was going to increase the budget for one position, why not add more for the JV volleyball team that many people want. “Where does it stop?” he asked.
Marris, Jan Woodworth and Cindy Bell Tobey all responded that a teacher is more than a number, and is a school asset that affects kids beyond the classroom as well as in it.
The board voted 4-2 to add to the budget an amendment to fund the social studies position. They then voted, again 4-2, to pay for the budget increase by using district reserve funds, or fund balance, rather than by increasing the tax levy above the planned 4.93 percent. If the board had approved an increased tax levy the budget would have had to be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters in order to pass. If it failed, the budget would have had to put up for a second public vote.
The budget already had $1.3 million in school reserve funds included, but with a plan to reduce the amount of those funds used every year by $275,000. This year, instead, it will be reduced by $207,000.
“This is a real issue. If we don’t stop using the fund balance we’ll run out of money,” said William Furlong, assistant superintendent for business and finance. When that account runs dry then the money it was being used for will have to come out of the budget itself, he said.
Before the amendment was approved to increase the budget to include funding of the social studies position, the proposed budget was basically the same as was presented at the board’s budget work session on April 15. The only change was a savings of $11,000 by cutting funding for two boys lacrosse assistant coaching positions, one for varsity and one for junior varsity. The other four district positions that will be eliminated next year will still be cut — one fifth grade teacher, one sixth grade teacher, one cleaner and one high school guidance counselor — but these were through attrition and not through layoff.
Multiple supporters of the softball team in particular — players, parents of players and team coaches — pleaded with the board to find the money to field a team and not force players to skip from modified straight to varsity. While no one said it outright, more than one suggested that since the board was willing to manipulate the budget to save a teacher’s job, why could it not work the numbers to save a team that so many athletes both want and need.
The board listened to all the comments from the softball team supporters but made no comments themselves.
Now that the preliminary budget has been approved, the board of education will hold a budget hearing for the community at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, in the high school auditorium to give a detailed review of all the items included in the budget. The following Tuesday, May 22, will be the public vote on the budget as well as on two seats on the school board. Voting will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school auxiliary gym.
For more information on the school budget, visit caz.cnyric.org/2103-14-budget.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.