HANNIBAL, NY – After about a half dozen budget resolutions came before the Hannibal Board of Education on Thursday night only to sputter and die due to lack of board support – including one to not approve a budget – a budget figure was finally agreed upon.
On the seventh try, the board voted 5-3 to adopt a $26,170,128 spending plan for the 2011-12 school year.
Most other budget numbers are vague at best currently, which caused one board member to exclaim “What are we doing?” near the end of Thursday’s two-hour special budget meeting.
The state’s legal deadline to adopt a school budget is April 22.
Board members agreed to a spending limit and a maximum tax increase of 2 percent, but little else during the meeting.
Among the issues the board will have to deal with as the budget numbers become clear include how many layoffs might there be and how many, if any, programs will be cut.
The budget also takes into account wage concessions from employees. However, none of the district’s six unions have agreed to a salary freeze.
All union contracts expire at the end of this school year.
And, the district is still facing an approximate $317,000 budget gap.
The board discussed the possibility of using money in the district’s fund balance to close the gap. It was an idea that didn’t receive unanimous support.
“We’re not done with this,” said board member Fred Patane. “If we’re $500,000 short, we’ve got to $500,000 worth of cuts. If we’re $200,000 short, we have to make $200,000 worth of cuts. Right now we’re just spinning our wheels.”
“I’m not making a judgment on anybody on this board. We’ve gone through a lot of crap, and we’re not getting much help from certain people. I can see the frustration, because I am frustrated,” he continued, referring to the bargaining units not taking a wage freeze. The teachers’ union said in a letter to its members that it counter-offered to take a one year freeze as long as longevity and step increases continued and the contract was extended two more years.
“We are losing jobs in this county, real jobs,” Patane continued. “We are losing people in this community who aren’t going to have jobs. We also have people in this community that don’t have jobs and can’t pay their taxes. We have people in this community that are doing quite well. We have to decide what we’re going to do right now. Then, we can worry about what the cuts are going to be.”
“We don’t make the decisions. We only recommend,” board member Donna Ingersoll said.
“No, no, no. We have the power, we have the authority; I hate to call it power, we have the authority. If we don’t approve the position, if we don’t approve the money to spend on it then we then we’ve got control over it,” Patane said.
Board member Mike LaFurney proposed the first of what became a parade of budget resolutions.
“What we need to decide is do we like the budget that is being proposed? Does it serve the needs of our students? Do we stand behind that budget? Are we able to look the community in the eye when we say we’re going to pull 2 percent or 3 percent whatever that number may be? That’s what we need to decide tonight,” said board president Matt Henderson.
After several proposals failed, board member Erin Hess said, “What are we doing? We can’t keep putting this off.”
A poll of the 8 board members gave a clearer insight as to what each of them wanted in a budget. From there, a compromise was hammered out.
“There are things that can be cut that won’t affect our students,” Ingersoll said.
Voting in favor of the budget were Mireille Watts, LaFurney, Hess, Patane and Ingersoll.
Voting no were Henderson, Madeline Pittorf and Linda Warrick.
Following the meeting, Superintendent Mike DiFabio said he thought last year was the worst year ever, “Then we got hit with this year. It has been very tough on everyone; that’s why the decision has taken so long.”
It’s up to the board now to go over the budget plan, line by line, in an attempt to balance it, he told Oswego County Today.
The taxpayers will have their say on May 17.