GERMANTOWN–Meeting again with the Board of Education on February 15, Superintendent Patrick Gabriel gave board members two choices for the 2012-13 school budget: $200,000 in staff reductions and a 6.2% increase in the tax levy, or $300,000 in staff cuts and a 6.2% increase in the tax levy.
As requested by the board, Mr. Gabriel had looked at alternate cuts, including transportation and QUESTAR III programs, but those cuts were not enough, he said, and had other ramifications.
For example, by cutting a late bus and four QUESTAR III programs, the district could save $84,550. Those programs, however, would result in the reduction of state aid by $30,438, leaving a net savings of $54,112.
In the meantime, staff pay and benefits would increase, obliterating any savings with those cuts.
“One-time cuts won’t do it. We need to get to staffing reductions in the neighborhood of $342,113,” Mr. Gabriel told the full board and an audience of about 70 people.
One teacher and one aide in the elementary school would be eliminated through attrition–not replaced after retirements this year. Other than that, the 7.1 full-time equivalent positions were spread across tenure areas in all grades for the district’s 585 students.
“There’s no question that kids are going to lose out,” said Mr. Gabriel. But he believes the impact and losses could be addressed in another way next year and in the years that follow.
“With $342,00 in staff reductions and a tax levy increase of 6.2%, we’re solvent,” he said, “and we have time to reinvent ourselves. We don’t have time to do that if we adhere to the property tax levy limit of 2%.”
With his frequent references to reinventing the district, Mr. Gabriel harkened back to the February 1 World Café, during which residents discussed what was most important to them about the school, such as good teaching, and what they could be flexible about, such as sharing a superintendent.
Changes that involve sharing services and personnel are made slowly, and in the meantime Mr. Gabriel said, nothing less than his current proposal would get the district through this financial crisis.
If the board does decide to present a budget with a tax levy increase of more than 2%, it will take a supermajority of 60% of voters approving of the increase for the spending plan to take effect. The supermajority requirement is part of the state cap on property tax increases that recently took effect.
In other news, the district’s food service provider will not continue its contract after June, and Germantown is looking at sharing food services with the Hudson City School District. Germantown contracted out food service some 20 years ago, when in-school food service was found to be too expensive.
Bruce Bartolotta, a GCSD graduate who teaches high school social studies and heads the teachers’ union, told the audience that negotiations with the board and the union have reached an impasse and a mediator has been chosen. “We’re open to anything, we haven’t closed the door,” Mr. Bartolotta said of the teachers.
Board member Ralph DelPozzzo again said the public wouldn’t “go for” the budget suggested by the superintendent.
Mr. Gabriel replied, “You guys put up the budget you want.” His budget is not “a great choice,” he said, “but it’s the choice.”