Hannibal’s budget for the 2010-11 school year is no longer a draft, it’s a proposal. And the proposal unveiled Monday night cuts teachers, custodians and office staff but leaves money in the budget for a full sports program.
The $25.2 million proposal doubles the amount of money Hannibal will pull from reserve funds — $700,000 — to help fill the massive hole left by Gov. Paterson’s 5% across-the-board cut in school aid. It achieves savings by cutting 10 full or part-time teaching jobs, a teaching assistant’s job, 3 part-time custodians and a part-time typist. It cuts development programs aimed at teacher training and cuts deeply into the successful Reading First elementary program.
It will end band for 5th graders and cut into art education for elementary students.
Those and other cuts leave the district with a $200,000 deficit, about two weeks before the district must adopt its budget.
Not on the list of cuts: All varsity, JV and modified sports, along with all co-curricular activities such as yearbook, clubs, and the prom.
But there’s still a deficit and the $262,000 athletic program could fill all of it.
“If we’re cutting teachers,” asked resident Jack Beckwith, “why should we have this full athletic program?”
“If I was opening school today, I would have to look at what sports I’d have to cut,” said Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio, who said that there are still opportunities to either find more money from grants, surprise aid from Albany or other savings to avoid cuts to sports and co-curricular programs.
Among the “other savings” the Board of Education was hoping for was concessions from the district’s six unions. The board asked several months ago for the unions to consider giving up raises planned for the 2010-11 school year or to brin other cost-saving ideas to the table. Five of the six unions have been willing to meet with the board to discuss reopening their contracts, though no committments have been made. The sixth union, the one which represents teachers, at first declined to take part, saying that the union members had already given up enough.
Monday night, however, it was revealed that the teachers’ union made a proposal to cut its planned raise in half. That’s in line with what has happened in the North Syracuse and West Genesee districts.
“What was in their proposal was not acceptable. That’s all I can say,” said board president Dale Young. He said that since the proposal was received in an executive session of the board, board members could not reveal the contents of the proposal.
There were hints, however, that the union’s proposal contained an extension of its contract, which runs out at the end of the 2010-11 school year and that it was the extension that was the major issue.
The board will hold a closed-door session tonight, its third one, to discuss cost savings and possible contract concessions with any union official who would like to attend. Board member Matt Henderson read an e-mail sent to DiFabio by the teachers’ union’s leader that said the union would not attend because “the board has expressed no interest in our offer,” he read. The teachers’ union has not attended any of the sessions, sending its offer through DiFabio instead.
Teacher Bill Mason said he wanted it on the record that “the only union that has offered cost savings measures” was the teachers’ union.
The board said it would not strike separate deals with each union and would not allow some unions to make concessions while others do not. “What we’ll do for one, we’ll do for all,” Young said. “The HFA (the teachers’ union) talks to everyone but us,” complained Henderson.
Others took issue with plans to cut into the elementary reading program, Reading First. Board member Randy Siver, sitting in the audience, said the program “should not be touched. You’ll be making the biggest mistake of your lives.” He said the elementary students who have gone through the program have raised their reading scores for four years in a row and will eventually improve the district’s low graduation rate. “That is gonna hurt,” agreed Young.
Some said that cutting three part-time custodians would put students and staff at risk. Custodian Ken Greenleaf said he was proud that Hannibal had the lowest incidence of sickness among area schools from the H1N1 virus and MRSA, a hard-to-beat bacterial infection. He noted that each school building operates with about half of the staff recomended by experts. “We will do what we have to do to ensure the safety of the kids,” he said.
But the biggest problem is that the district is budgeting in the dark. State aid makes up 80% of the district budget and the district won’t know exactly what it will get until the state budget is approved. The budget was due on April 1 but is usually late. The board must adopt a school budget by April 23 for a public vote on May 18 and there might not be a state budget by either of those dates.
If the budget is voted down in May, the board has the option of a re-vote in June or adopting a contingent budget. If the re-vote fails in June, a contingent vote is mandatory. Because the state budget is more likely to be in place by June than by May, board member Fred Patane wondered out loud about voting against the budget in May. “I wish this district had enough money to tell the state to pound it,” he said.