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Ambivalent Hannibal School Board Rejects Budget, Will Have To Approve It Next Week

They put off the day of decision for one more week.

Frustrated members of the Hannibal Board of Education could not agree to approve a budget for next school year. The budget failed, 4-3, in front of a standing-room-only audience of students and taxpayers. The board will have to enact a budget next week and it is likely to be the same budget they voted against Wednesday night.

The budget they failed to approve would have required $25,429,309 in revenues and, at the moment, would require a 2.58% increase in the tax levy.

Hannibal, one of poorest school districts in the state, has a unique set of problems in coming up with a budget. The district receives 80% of its revenue from state aid. Gov. Paterson’s across-the-board 5% cut in state aid to schools hit Hannibal much harder than most other schools, which have more balanced sources of income.

Superintendent Mike DiFabio’s spending proposal would cut 10 teaching jobs, a teaching assistant’s job, 3 part-time custodial jobs and a part-time typist’s job. It would cut deeply into academic programs such as the elementary Reading First program, which is credited with improving student skills. It would cut into music and arts, but leave all school-funded sports programs intact. The Board of Education sought concessions from its unions, but rejected a teachers’ union proposal that would have saved $124,000 this year but which would have extended the contract two more years and added $470,000 in costs over those two years. Next year is expected to be a worse budget year than this year.

“I’m willing to accept my responsibility as a homeowner to make sure Hannibal Central School provides its students with a well-rounded, quality education,” said Cindy Sullivan, parent of one of the leaders of student-run Save Our Schools group lobbying for preservation of sports, music and arts programs. “Education should not be based on a zero,” she said.

“How many tax increases in a row make a good taxpayer,” resident John Metelsky asked Sullivan. “As many as it takes to provide a good education for our kids,” Sullivan answered. “So, what you’re saying is, ‘the sky’s the limit’,” Metelsky asked?

“The community does have a responsibility to education the students,” board vice president Matt Henderson said later. “But when is too much too much?

“How many years in a row are we going to be hitting the (tax) levy?”

Board member Bob Gillen argued for restoring cuts made to Reading First. Board member Mirelle Watts wanted money put back in the budget for marching band and music education. “I want everything,” said board member Linda Warrick, but “I’m also thinking about people who are in danger of losing their homes.”

“Zero,” said board member Fred Patane. “I’m fed up with it. I’m tired of being pushed by the state and federal government” with unfunded mandates.

The board was only being asked to come up with a revenue budget Wednesday night. DiFabio has said often that spending can be adjusted “until the doors open in September”. And the tax levy won’t be set until August, making the 2.58% figure an estimate.

But board members worried that the state could take even more money away from Hannibal by the time it passes a state budget. Because the board approved a resolution several years ago promising never to raise the tax levy more than 5%, they were uncertain what would happen if any extra cuts pushed the tax levy above the 5% increase level.

Board president Dale Young asked for a motion to approve a revenue budget of $25,429,309. Young and Donna Ingersoll voted in favor of it immediately. Henderson sighed and raised his hand, reluctantly. But Patane, Watts, Gillen and Warrick voted no. People in the large crowd groaned.

The board will meet next Wednesday to approve a revenue budget. It is very likely to be the same budget they voted against Wednesday night, unless the state Legislature approves a budget before then, something that is considered very unlikely. A budget must be approved by next Friday to meet deadlines for the statewide school budget voting day on May 18.

4 Comments

  1. How could they NOT vote it down??? All sports remain while cutting invaluable academic programs? Athletics may keep kids in school, but athletes have to graduate. With cuts to academics, students will not be able to meet the challenges and rigors of the world after high school. How short sighted can a district be? Instead of thinking about their futures, you are planning student’s high school careers around baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball…

  2. A schoo’ls sole purpose is to educate. By educate, I mean academics. Somewhere along the way this line got blurred. Extra-curricular programs should are nice when the winds of economics are favorable. In tight times, let’s not forget the purpose of schools. Schools are not supposed to be placebo parents. If you want your kids to play sports or instruments it should be your responsibility to arrange such endeavors, not the schools. Schools provide academic educations!!!!

  3. Children learn many valuable life lessons through sports and if you played sports you would understand that. The Sports Boosters have donated over $100,000 in the last 6 years to the district to help maintain sports so parents have helped to pay in addition to paying their taxes. All sports programs do not remain in the budget. Five teams were cut last year and are still out of the budget for next year. Sports do help keep kids in school and that does help their future. No one is taking away their academic subjects . Have you been to the BOE Meetings? Have you read about the cuts? I agree that many things need to be put back in to the budget right along with sports. I am willing to pay. Are you?

  4. School should be academics first everything else is frosting. If there is no money there is no money. Run that school like a business and then you will get it. If there is no money in a businesses budget for fluff you just have to cut it out to keep the business going. Taxpayers are already stretched to the max., it will not fly. I am saddened by the lack of extra curricular, but making sports a priority over art and music is a travesty. Time will tell.

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