KINDERHOOK –The Ichabod Crane school board is looking to find cuts in to make up for a $1.2-million gap in the budget caused by reduced state ad and normal increases in expenses. Or they could propose at an 8% tax levy increase to voters in May.
The board held its third budget forum, focusing on sports and extracurricular activities, Tuesday February 14. But the topic shifted to state ad cuts and how to address the shortfall.
If the district proposes a tax levy above the 2.54% allowed under the state cap in budget increases, the budget must be adopted by a supermajority of voters (60% plus 1). If a budget proposal that exceeds the cap fails to obtain the required supermajority, the district can propose a second vote with no more than the 2.54% increase. If a second budget fails to win a simple majority, the district must adopt a budget with no tax levy increase, which would “cut to the heart” of the program, said Interim Superintendent Lee Bordick.
Board President Andrew Kramarchyk read a prepared statement regarding the board’s negotiations with the teachers’ union on a new contract. He said they have come to impasse since starting the process in June of 2011 and now state mediators have to be brought in.
Mr. Kramarchyk said the board has been asking for health benefit and retirement contributions from the teachers. “I feel… sadness and helplessness over the current status,” he told the small crowd Tuesday.
The district has to honor the expired contract under state law until the new one is worked out. That contract includes a 2.5% salary increase for teachers. As the board prepares the budget for the 2012-13 year, he said, it will have to estimate the costs of a new contract.
Ichabod Crane’s state aid, unlike other schools in the county, will go down slightly next school year, and over the last five years, state aid for the district has decreased by millions.
“It seems that Ichabod Crane is not getting its fair share,” said Mr. Bordick of the governor’s plan to increase the aid for other districts by as much as 7%. Mr. Bordick said that though administrators are still crunching the numbers, the district is currently looking at a 3.25% tax levy increase over last year.
“It’s not a problem of expenditures, it’s a problem of revenues,” he told the audience.
To make up the gap the board is reviewing all the programs that can be cut or reduced. The biggest savings would result from adopting a “one-bell” busing system, which could save the district over $300,000.
The sports program costs $350,000, while other after school programs are about $74,000 total.
Cutting kindergarten to a half day would save $185,000; cutting it altogether would yield another $600,000. Not offering pre-kindergarten would save $43,000.
The board did not make any suggestions of what they will cut at this meeting or previous meeting.
The will look at special education at its next meeting February 28, and review anything topic not previously covered in early March. The board must adopt a proposed budget in early April ahead of the May 15 vote.
“The tough decisions are going to have to be made,” said board member John Antalek, who pointed that cutting roughly 15 jobs would also close the gap. “I’m just adding up the totals,” he said.
Mr. Kramarchyk said that the community members should let the board know whether they would support a higher tax increase or say what could be cut.
The few people who spoke at the meeting talked about the tough choices the board has to make.
“No one wants to pay more taxes, no one wants to cut programs,” said a district resident, but he pointed out the “big ticket items are gone,” meaning the two elementary schools that were closed last year, saving the district about million dollars.
The board will meet again in the high school auditorium February 28 at 7 p.m. Board members also urged people to write to their representatives in Albany about the reduction of state aid to the district. Contact information for the governor, state Senators Steve Saland (R-41st) and Roy McDonald (R-43rd), and Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-108th) are on the district’s website, www.ichabodcrane.org.