With the passage of the state budget last week and final state aid to school districts now known, the Cazenovia school district budget received $200,000 less in aid than it expected. This fact, combined with the limited revenues allowed to the district through local taxes due to the state tax levy cap mandate and the dwindling amount of district fund balance reserves available to plug budget gaps, means that the 2014-15 district budget will reduce district staff by 9.4 positions (full-time equivalent positions) rather than the six previously planned.
Overall, next year’s district budget is more dismal in outlook with more difficult decisions needed to be made than anyone hoped or anticipated.
This was the message conveyed to close to 100 Cazenovia school district residents — students, parents, teachers, district staff and concerned community members — at the school board’s special budget meeting on Monday, April 7.
“This is a revenue problem, it’s not a problem on the expense side,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Furlong, who gave a 30-minute presentation on the budget, what it entails and how the district and school board arrived at the final proposal it has.
The budget as presented April 7 is changed little from the board’s preliminary numbers released in March, with the exception of the increased number of staff reductions.
The current total budget is $26.5 million, which is a $76,000 — or .29 percent — increase from last year. The state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment for 2014-15 takes $925,409 away from the district, while total state aid received by the district is $293,000.
The budget includes revenue from local taxes of $168,237, or a 1.1 percent tax levy increase from last year, which is the maximum allowed under the state-mandated tax levy cap. The district is also proposing to use $750,000 of reserve account funding to help fund its 2014-15 budget.
The budget has seen a 30 percent increase in special education costs during the past two years — which has simultaneously increased transportation costs for bussing special education students — and health care costs have increased 5 percent this year, 3 percent of which is caused by the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, Furlong said.
The budget includes the elimination of 9.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the district: two cleaners, one bus mechanic, three elementary teachers (first grade, third grade and kindergarten), one high school consumer family science position, one monitor and .4 FTE guidance counselor/psychologist position.
The effect of the staff cuts on classroom sizes throughout the district — especially in the elementary school — is an increase of one or two students per class. The average class size in Burton Street next year ranges from 20.0 in Kindergarten to 23.5 in third grade.
“We feel that’s still within the realm of reasonable,” Furlong said.
Superintendent Bob Dubik said what is not shown in the budget numbers is what the district has done during the past few years to keep the budget solvent by reducing numerous items such as athletics, field trips, transportation, maintenance, supplies and materials, teacher training and staff reductions of teachers, clerical and administration.
Meeting attendees still had many concerns, questions and even accusations for the board and the administration during the public comment period on how the budget was created as it was.
Third grade student Faith Widrick, surrounded and supported by friends and classmates, asked the board not to cut any elementary school teachers.
“We are here because we want to stand up for our rights for a good education. We think that you should not take any more teachers away,” she read from a prepared statement. “The more teachers you take away means that the classroom will be chaotic and harder for us to learn. We need our teachers so that we can all have a chance to learn the most we can. We do not want any of our teachers to go. We need them and love them all.”
First grade teacher Beth Ann Kempf cited and quoted from seven education articles stating that reducing teachers and increasing class sizes has proven to be “detrimental” to students.
Jim Giardina, a district transportation department employee, read from a petition that the entire department signed and submitted to the board. One of the proposed staff cuts includes a transportation department mechanic, whom Giardina characterized as “key to the overall operation” of the department.
“To lose that important piece of our successful team does not make sense to us,” Giardina said. “This particular situation … makes sense on the board level but in real life it’s not.”
Giardina also accused district administrators of “acting in bad faith” in their recent contract negotiations with the mechanics union, saying the mechanic position reduction was never discussed during contract talks.
Dubik and school board members all thanked the attendees for coming and commenting, and said their budget decisions were extremely difficult and even painful.
“We have looked at everything,” Dubik said concerning what they are proposing to cut and why. “And when I say we have looked at every single thing [to cut], we have looked at every single thing … The state is not letting up on its mandates and we have to administer those mandates.”
BOE President Pat Vogl said the preliminary budget discussed in March was based on “middle of the road” assumptions until the state legislature finalized its budget. The state’s budget was so lean on school aid that the current budget as explained April 7 is now “the worst case scenario.”
BOE Member Jan Woodworth said cutting staff positions is painful: “It hurts; it hurts all of us here, and we don’t take it lightly,” she said.
BOE Member Lisa Lounsbury, elected last year, said that during this, her first budget process, she has learned that state mandates and state aid cuts are what is consistently corroding Cazenovia’s annual budget. She said the funding is inequitably distributed throughout the state, with the city and downstate communities receiving most of the aid and upstate getting practically nothing.
“I have a personal plea: mobilize your concerns and bring them to Albany,” she said. “We have to have Cazenovia heard. Downstate is being heard.” Without parents and students — such as those who attended the board’s meeting — contacting their local state legislators and the governor’s office in Albany, fiscal issues are not likely to improve, and “the same thing will probably happen next year.”
The school board will next discuss the budget at its next regular meeting on Monday, April 14, at which time it will vote to approve it. There will then be a public budget hearing on May 13, with a public vote on the budget on May 20.
The district’s budget proposal is available on its website at caz.cnyric.org under the “budget” tab.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.