Cheers For Students, Criticism For Teachers’ Union As Hannibal Meets On Its School Budget Deficit

A large crowd of students and taxpayers listens to a presentation of Hannibal's school budget problems for the 2010-11 school year in this photo illustration, assembled from three separate photos.
A large crowd of students and taxpayers listens to a presentation of Hannibal's school budget problems for the 2010-11 school year in this photo illustration, assembled from three separate photos.

Hannibal taxpayers praised students and denounced the teachers’ union as the district explained again why it may have to cut jobs, sports and music; raise taxes by a large amount; or both.

The Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss its budget crisis once again.  Early budget meetings were lightly attended, until news got around town about the size of Hannibal’s problem.  Wednesday’s meeting was moved to the high school auditorium, which was about half full.

Superintendent Mike DiFabio walked people through the devastating numbers:

  • The state is giving Hannibal 5% less state aid in the 2010-11 school year than it got this year.  Gov. Paterson is cutting state aid as part of massive statewide cuts to fill a $9 billion deficit;
  • 80% of Hannibal’s revenue is state aid;
  • The 5% cut will leave Hannibal with a budget deficit of $1.6 million, after some reserve funds are used to fill a small part of the deficit;
  • That deficit would require a 27% tax increase without cuts;
  • The district can cut every program and activity not required by law — music, art, sports, clubs and some academic programs — and still have a $600,000 deficit, requiring a 10-12% tax increase.

Board vice president Matt Henderson said the district has been lobbying its state lawmakers and met with them this week. “What I took from the meeting is that we’re on our own.”

“We’re in deep doo-doo, folks,” said board president Dale Young. “When the (state) piggy bank’s empty, we’ve got a problem.”

Students in SOC T-shirts sit directly in front of the Board of Education.
Students in SOC T-shirts sit directly in front of the Board of Education.

Several dozen students sat directly in front of the board, taking up the first five rows of the auditorium.  They all wore white t-shirts that bore their new organization’s name: SOS, for “Save Our School”.

They presented the board with 91 pages of letters and pictures from students and former students urging the board not to cut sports, music and art.  They showed the results of a survey they conducted around town that found that four out of every five people surveyed had at least one child in extracurricular activities and that even more would support a tax increase to keep sports, music and art alive.

Student members of the group SOS present the results of their community survey.
Student members of the group SOS present the results of their community survey.

A community without those things would be “robbed of its spirit, energy and morale,” wrote 2003 Valedictorian Mallory Burnell in a letter read to the board by one SOS member.

“We the kids, we the community are going to fight for this,” said another student, to the applause of the audience.

“Put it all up for a vote and let the taxpayers decide,” said Band Boosters official Theresa King, to applause.

The board revealed that five of the district’s six unions were willing to discuss contract concessions.  Only the Hannibal Faculty Association refused.

A student hands to members of the Board of Education a packet of letters from people opposed to cuts in sports, music and arts.
A student hands to members of the Board of Education a packet of letters from people opposed to cuts in sports, music and arts.

Henderson read the letter to the board from union co-presidents Jeff LaMont and Sam Patane.  The letter said the two leaders would not be able to attend the board’s March 5 special meeting with its unions, citing “schedule conflicts”.

The two leaders wrote that they “cannot support any further concessions from our members.”  They wrote that teachers accepted the lowest settlement in the county in their last contract, agreed to allow a change in health insurance providers one year early, have accepted more responsibilities, are buying more of their own supplies and, in some cases, are volunteering to do tasks that used to be paid.

Henderson said that it would be unfair to ask the other unions to accept concessions unless all of the unions agreed.

He said the district was seeking a two year wage freeze and the elimination of stipends for duties such as coaching teams or advising clubs.  Board members said the other unions were willing to accept the wage freeze.

He noted that DiFabio has already agreed to take no salary increase next year.  “Somebody said ‘it should start at the top’,” said Henderson. “He’s done it.”

Students hand out SOS T-shirts in the auditorium lobby before the meeting.
Students hand out SOS T-shirts in the auditorium lobby before the meeting.

“How much are we supposed to ask people to pay for ‘any further concessions’? Think about that tonight,” he said.

“Our public employees expect the private sector to pick up the tab.  The answer is no,” said one taxpayer, who noted that the district’s dropout rate is the highest in the county.  Demand concessions, she told the board, or “we will demand the state step in and take over the district.  Greed will no longer be tolerated.”

“Is this school performing? No,” said another, referring to the dropout figures. “Your budget is not your only concern.  Your state is in major trouble and your school could be closed.  Nobody’s job is secure.”

Resident John Metelsky talked to the students. “Go home and ask your parents how many years in a row they got a pay raise. It doesn’t happen in real life.”  He said he could vote for a tax increase “if everyone gives up something.  It has to be shared sacrifice.”

“We’re in trouble,” said Henderson. “We’re talking about the survival of the district. Next year, we’re going to be facing a bigger deficit.  What are we going to do?  I don’t know how many years in a row there’s been pay raises.”

Board member Donna Ingersoll choked up as she said, “There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t go home without a sick feeling in our guts about the decisions we make.”

The board must adopt a budget by the first week of April. If the state budget, which is due April 1, is not approved by then, the district won’t know exactly how much state aid it will receive.

DiFabio said that the budget that people will vote on in May is only a number and that people will not be voting to eliminate sports, music, art and clubs that day. “We always have until the doors open (in September) to add programs. You’re just adopting a number,” he said.


  1. I live in Hannibal – the school taxes are already too high for most of the population. Music is nice, art is fine, sports okay—BUT none of those things will help these young people learn to make a living in the world. We bus children all over the place – a cost. It used to be that parents took their children to these games – often car pooling and taking turns. Art was an elective so was music and sports were not played unless your academic scores were up. Hooray for the children with SOS ?—no-o-o, not hooray. They don’t want the school saved just the things they have fun in. The era of instant gratification. I think combining the school districts is a great idea. It would eliminate superfluous activites and employees and consolidate funds. It is about time that the population got a break – not many of Hannibal residents make the salaries that our school employees do–an increase in taxes might just cause folks to move away.

  2. A community the size of Hannibal can no longer support the costs of a school district on their own. That is the fact. Every consideration outside of consolidation is going to be about concessions and cuts – and that is just this year. Next year isn’t going to be any better (nor the year after that).

    And so the district will continue to go further into decline (graduation rate declines prove that you are already on that path) until the Board of Education gets their game together and merges just the necessary resources with either Fulton or Oswego (or some combination of both).

    Failing to act on consolidation/merger demonstrates that the Board is completely lacking sufficient experience or intelligence or courage to know the right thing to do and act on it.

  3. Many organizations, over the past two years, across America have cut many more jobs then the Hannibal school district has, many organizations froze pay or any increases back in 2008, many organizations have cut benefits and MANY have done all of these and more. The school district and the unions need to wake up to this fact, they are far from alone in having to make tough decisions.
    “Music is nice, art is fine, sports okay” . No they are– among other things like them– essential for many reasons other than to just have “fun”. It is well documented what happens when today’s youth are not given choices like these – increase alcoholism, teen pregnancy goes up, vandalism and crime go up. There is and will be a cost of omitting them, too harsh to measure in simple dollars.
    I agree these cutting steps are trivial compared to the decisions that will need to be made again next year, and the year after. The board should take this time to look at long term solutions with the children of the community at the heart of their decision. Some will argue that Hannibal only needs the essentials- math, science etc – this is a simple mind looking at a complex situation.

  4. people don’t realize how much art, music, sports and more is important to Hannibal and every other school. it DOES help you in the real life, it teaches you respect, responsibility and much more. the people that say we should “merge” with another school is something that no one wants. if we fight for this we can change it and thats what were doing. we will be losing everything! sports, music, art, our prom and senior trip, our yearbook, boces and so much more. it isn’t a high school expirience without these things and people need ot realize this!

  5. As a resident of Hannibal and a huge supporter of music, arts and sports in our schools, I find it sad that any district would have to be faced with the decision to cut these programs. Unfortunately, the tax payers can’t bear the burden of what these programs cost and we’re just not getting the funding from our state. Perhaps we need to look at our Booster programs, fundraising events, and volunteerism. Merging with another school district is an interesting idea to me and I do wonder how or IF it would work. We border Cato-Meridian, Fulton & Oswego districts, but I am sure those districts have their financial issues just as Hannibal does.

    Are the programs required? No-but they keep kids interested in school. Are they needed for their future? Yes, they are. These programs require teamwork, dedication and commitment. Where in life would any of us be without those 3 things?

    What we need to do is get the public more involved. There are so many ways that we can all help-go to the board meetings, go to the Home and School meetings (PTO) and be supportive of our community!

  6. Where do our children learn the TRUE lessons required for successful life after high school? Where do they really learn self-discipline, responsibility, teamwork? Where do you think they learn to accept disappointment, what it takes to be a good loser, a good winner? Where can they get applause for a job well done? How do they know the rewards of applying a fair work ethic, or do try their best? Where can they learn self-confidence to succeed at a job interview? These lessons, and many others, are learned in band, chorus, art and sports. Our students may not earn their livelilhoods as a professional athletes, musicians, artists, or vocalists, but several Hannibal graduates have done just that! Life’s true lessons are NOT being learned in today’s classrooms. Music, sports, & art are critical parts of the education we give our kids. Look around! Our most successful citizens learned life’s lessons in those arenas. Our Board of Education should be running the school – not the school running the Board. Put the children first! Cut back in areas of administration, secretaries, salary increases, wasteful spending that is evident to the students as well as the taxpayers. And, above all – cut back on days when there is “no school”. Kids can’t learn if they don’t show up, and they can’t show up if there’s no school! Block scheduling hurts the students for the benefit of the faculty. Put the kids first! If you don’t like your job – retire! And, give it to someone who wants to be there for the benefit of the kids. Accept a pay freeze – for the benefit of the kids! Urge to Board of Education to make the right and tough decisions they must make for the benefit of the kids – and the taxpayers will be able to afford to keep their homes. And, you don’t need to cut music & sports to do it, either.

  7. I am saddened at what has become of my Alma mater. Two of my children have graduated from Hannibal also. The sports and the arts where absolutely instrumental in their growth. Art steered one of them to her career choice. I can’t imagine if she had not been exposed to the art courses offered at Hannibal, but those where different times.
    In our private lives we are have made cuts since this recession began and now it is time for a sacrifice from the school teaching staff and administrators. Sam Patane says the teacher can’t give up anymore. They already use their own money for their classroom supplies that should be considered an investment in the future of our youth, not a sacrifice. He mention benefit concessions, be thankful the tax payers allow you to have benefits. Kudos to Mr. DeFabio, for leading by example. Let’s face it. You would sooner move heaven and earth than have the majority of the teachers or staff agreed to a freeze or a cut back. Give up stipends for coaching and advising. I dare them to prove me wrong. I come from a family of educators I have heard the teacher stories first hand. Maybe the educators need to rethink why they took up the profession in the first place. To teach not to line their pockets on the backs of the hardworking taxpayers. Guess what a job is a job and at this time in history a darn fortunate thing to have. If they cannot see the writing on the wall then they need to find employment elsewhere. If you took a poll of the tax payers in the Hannibal School District I bet you would find a major percentage of them who have seen their hours, benefits or even wages cut or eliminated. Just look at the unemployment rate in Oswego Co. It is not rocket science board members it is fact. You can put the budget up with the tax increase for a vote and march our kids around town to gain some sympathy,but what it boils down to is change. Change is tough. No one said it would be easy. Kids will adjust. Academics take first billing. If the end result is the major cuts of sports, art, music, and all the extracurricular then they just have to suck it up. We have some good athletes, musicians, and artist in our school, maybe even great ones, but let’s face it there are very, very few athletic, music and art scholarships handed out to our students, even if they are deserving of it. Our kids will find a way to play baseball, football,draw, paint, and play music. Let just make sure we have the best of the lot to teach them the academics. We want the teachers who want to teach our kids, not double dip the district with extra bucks for coaching and advising. That should always have been just considered gravy.

Comments are closed.