Fulton school district officials have already proposed what they say are painful, devastating cuts for the next school year. And it’s not enough, not even close to enough.
So far, there’s as much as $1.2 million in cuts being proposed: A half million dollars saved because of retirements; cuts in buying textbooks and a host of smaller purchases; and eliminating 8 jobs.
In an average year, $1.2 million in spending cuts would produce a tax cut or, at worst, no increase. This isn’t an average year.
The state will cut at least $1.7 million in aid to Fulton as part of a statewide cut of about 5% on average in school aid. At the same time, districts will pay much more in 2010-11 for its share of the state retirement system. Payroll and benefits costs will also go up next year.
So, that $1.2 million spending cut? If that’s the last cut the district makes (and officials say it won’t be), Fulton school taxes would rise an average of 13.4% for taxpayers.
Therefore, there will be more cuts.
How much more must be cut?
To get the tax levy increase down to 5%, a number that would be considered too high any other year, the district will have to make another $1.5 million in cuts. A 2% increase? $2.1 million more. Zero? Nearly $2.5 million.
School districts have, in the past, planned for deep cuts in state aid that are erased at the last minute by the state Legislature. Not only is that not likely to happen this year, but last week, State Senator Darrel Aubertine told school superintendents at a private meeting that the Legislature is likely to cut school aid even more than currently proposed.
“It’s pretty devastating,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch.
Gov. David Paterson has said that school districts should just use their reserve funds to fill the gap. There are a few problems with that scenario.
First, schools that have been able to build some reserve funds have been planning for two difficult budget years, not just one. Using the reserves now would leave nothing for the 2011-12 year, which will see another increase in state retirement contributions and the loss of some federal aid.
Second, the reserve fund isn’t a rainy-day fund that can be use to patch any budget hole. Instead, there are many reserve funds, each restricted to a particular part of the budget. For example, there’s a reserve fund to pay off unused sick days when more employees retire than normal. So, of all of a district’s reserve funds, very little can be used to fill the gap in state aid.
Thus, more cuts.
“We’re preparing a laundry list of options (for more cuts) and we’ll pick and choose,” said Lynch. “But they’ll all be painful.”
The cuts already being proposed would cut into academic intervention services for high school math, where students are doing well, and would require art and physical education teachers to travel among buildings. It would also eliminate two teacher-on-special-assignment positions, which are used to carry out special projects that require more manpower. A teacher who teaches Family and Consumer Science would not be replaced after retiring, nor would a retiring special education teacher or a clerical position left vacant earlier this year because of a retirement.
Further cuts are likely to dig directly into academic programs. The next level of cutbacks will be made public next Tuesday when the district holds a workshop on the budget.
“I’m looking at this in tiers of reductions,” Lynch told the Board of Education Tuesday night.
“‘Tears’ is right,” said board member Robbin Griffin, making a dark play on words about the difficult choices ahead.