Taconic Hills budget doesn’t say how many jobs might go

CRARYVILLE-The Taconic Hills School Board voted April 13 to present voters with a budget proposition costing $32,661,520, a plan that calls for a 2.78% increase in the tax levy. Under the proposal, spending would rise by $450,861, which is 1.9% higher than the current school year levy.

The total tax levy is $21,638,160, up $585,270 over the current year.

The budget proposal would require $2,748,872 in cuts, which will result in staff cuts, but the plan does not specify how many layoffs would result. The district is currently in negations with unions representing workers in the district.

The plan would keep class sizes at the same level, between 20 and 23 pupils.

Six board members — Joseph Costa, George Lagonia, Jr., Clifford Campbell, Donald McComb, Robert McComb and Kevin Maisenbacher — supported the budget proposal. Christine Perry, Ronald Morales, and Harvey Weber voted against it.

The district received $9,637,360 in state aid this year and still has $501,741 in federal job restoration/economic stimulus funds it opted not to use last fall. But it still must cut $2,6 million to realize the proposed budget. District Superintendent Mark Sposato said he plans to use money from reserves to cover some of this shortfall, including $150,000 from unemployment account and $450,000 from employee retirement funds. He said several teaching positions may be funded through federal Title One grants if they come through. The district has not filled over a dozen positions that have become vacant in the past year, but since those positions are not in the current budget they don’t provide any relief from further cutting.

Cuts to electives, like art and music, and to non-teaching positions like psychologists and librarians were mentioned at the meeting. If you cut them or sports, you won’t get them back, said the superintendent.

Job cuts will be announced in June.

Two-thirds of the budget goes to pay salaries and benefits, but it remains to be seen whether the teachers’ union, now in contract negotiations, will make any concessions like a salary freeze or larger contributions to the union’s healthcare plan. One board member said collective bargaining is not going well, and the head of the support staff union said that unit could not get the superintendent to sit down and talk with union negotiators.

“Annual raises kill us. They go up 4% every year,” said board member George Langonia, Jr.

The district pays 90% of healthcare premiums for the staff and administration.

A “roll-over” budget that would have kept the current educational program intact requiring no cuts would have cost tax payers an extra $1.2 million, with two-thirds of that 12.67% increase going to pay salary increases and benefits.

David Luck, a parent and CPA from Ghent spoke about how last year’s deep cuts have affected his son’s academic life. He said that his son’s 11th grade trigonometry class is now being taught by a 6th grade math teacher, and his son had only scored 58 on a state test. He went on to complain about Superintendent Sposato’s salary of $187,000, which he said was more than the governor of New York makes and out of line with the community in which the recent census reported an average salary of only $27,000. He suggested Dr. Sposato lead by example and take a 20% salary cut.

“Why won’t the school administrators and the staff and teachers meet to discuss together, ways to reduce the budget and save jobs?” Mr. Luck asked. “We, the taxpayers, can’t afford another increase. It has nothing to do with not appreciating the staff and teachers or the jobs they do. For the record, we all appreciate them, we just can’t afford to pay anymore.”

The plan will go before district voters in May.

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