A discussion of money-saving ideas mixed with swipes at the teachers’ union dominated the public hearing on Hannibal’s painful proposed budget for 2010-11.
Hannibal’s budget eliminates or downsizes 15 positions and raises the tax levy 2.99% in a year in which Gov. Paterson’s across-the-board education aid cuts will drain more than a million dollars from Hannibal. It cuts into the Reading First program credited with helping get the district off the state’s “in need of improvement” list, eliminates band for 5th graders and preserves varsity and modified sports.
Voters will also decide May 18 on buying two new school buses and on whether to reduce the Board of Education by attrition from 9 members to 7. Six people are vying for three seats on the board. The third-place finisher will not be able to run for reelection next year if the board reduction measure passes.
About 30 taxpayers and Board of Education members came to the hearing, a far cry from the scores of people who packed board meetings when the budget was being developed.
Residents offered suggestions to save money on buying buses and asked about the cost of special education, a major expense.
Taxpayer John Metelsky renewed his complaint that the district should not cut the Reading First program if it is saving most sports. “You took something out that is essential to everyone in the community,” he said. “You’re taking Reading First and throwing it under the bus.” DiFabio said that the district was preserving some of the program.
But most of the discussion was about the cost of the district’s employees. The union representing teachers rejected making salary concessions at first, then offered to cut salary increases for the coming year in half if the district would extend the union’s contract two more years with raises built in. Facing even deeper cuts in aid next year, the board rejected the idea.
“It’s about time you start looking at negotiating contracts that are realistic for this area,” one man told Superintendent Mike DiFabio. “We’ve got half of our people leaving now because they can’t afford to live here.”
“We hear ya,” board Vice President Matt Henderson said. “We took a pretty good shot at getting concessions. We weren’t successful.”
Another man said of the teachers, “It’s a matter of, are they salary-based or do they have a heart for teaching?”
Board member Linda Warrick noted that the board was careful to refer to the union and not to teachers, as she felt that many teachers wanted to help the district. “I sense a disconnect between what the body of teachers want and what the union leadership is doing,” DiFabio agreed.
“I’m one of the cuts and I’ve never been given a good reason why,” said a man, who identified himself as one of the part-time cleaners whose jobs will be eliminated.
The district increased its cleaning staff as part of an initiative to cut down on students and staff absences from illness.
“Every position (that has been cut), I really need,” said DiFabio. “Your position is key. We still have the need but it’s not something we can sustain.”
“You gave me a job,” the man said. “I live in the district. Now you want to take my job away and raise my taxes.”
Hear the presentation portion of the budget hearing:
You can listen to the question-and-answer portion of the hearing below, but be advised that the audio quality is poor. You will hear some parts clearly and other parts will be difficult to hear. The hearing runs for about an hour.