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.Ã‚Â Early budget meetings were lightly attended, until news got around town about the size of Hannibal’s problem.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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.”
Several dozen students sat directly in front of the board, taking up the first five rows of the auditorium.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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.
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.Ã‚Â Only the Hannibal Faculty Association refused.
Henderson read the letter to the board from union co-presidents Jeff LaMont and Sam Patane.Ã‚Â 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.”Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â “Somebody said ‘it should start at the top’,” said Henderson. “He’s done it.”
“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.Ã‚Â The answer is no,” said one taxpayer, who noted that the district’s dropout rate is the highest in the county.Ã‚Â Demand concessions, she told the board, or “we will demand the state step in and take over the district.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â Your state is in major trouble and your school could be closed.Ã‚Â 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.”Ã‚Â He said he could vote for a tax increase “if everyone gives up something.Ã‚Â 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.Ã‚Â What are we going to do?Ã‚Â 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.