Hannibal school district leaders say they want to minimize the damage that they know next year’s budget will do to the school district.
Hannibal’s Board of Education met Monday night to begin figuring out how to put together the 2011-12 budget. It’s a good bet it will impose even more painful cutbacks on the district than this year’s budget did.
The current budget was damaged by an across-the-board cut in state aid to education, which inflicted a larger share of hurt on poorer districts like Hannibal, because of its dependence on state aid for much of its budget. The cuts were part of a plan to cover a $9 billion deficit in the state budget.
The next budget is likely to be even more painful because the state is facing a new deficit estimated at $10 billion for the budget due April 1, 2011.
“There’s been brutal impact” on the district, said Board of Education President Matt Henderson. The cuts affected an elementary reading program credited with improving reading scores, access to the elementary and middle school libraries, access to computer labs, the final year of the French language program that’s being eliminated, sports and other areas. “What if that (brutal impact) happens with math? What if it happens with science?” asked Henderson. “We’ve got to start prioritizing our negative impacts.”
“I think our responsibility to this community, to our students, is to pretty much go down to basics, the basic education we can give them,” said board member Fred Patane.
Board members said communication with the public over last year’s budget wasn’t as clear as it should have been. They identified better communication as a key priority for the next budget.
“The first thing that you have to tell people is that you take what we have now and we’ll have to cut,” said longtime board member Donna Blake.
“We made cuts last year beyond where I wanted to go,” said Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio. “It was more than I thought was safe.”
DiFabio said the only areas left where cuts can be made that do not affect core academic programs are in “sports, driver’s education and a half time business teacher. I think we’re at the lowest point of the ditch.”
The board preserved most sports and extracurricular programs in the current budget under sustained pressure from a large group of students and parents. The district’s sports booster organization has provided donations to allow modified sports programs to continue. If the districts sustains deeper cuts in its state aid for 2011-12, the pressure to cut funding to extracurricular activities will be greater.
“We’ve got the real numbers and we have to make decisions based on that and not on public pressure,” said Henderson. “We had some emotional people at our meetings and it’s hard to ignore that.”
New board member Erin Hess said that, from the outside, it appeared as though board members were arguing amongst themselves at times. Henderson agreed that “it looked unproductive because at times, it was.” Monday’s discussion was aimed at setting up a process for getting information that would allow the board to work together.
“People are not gonna like certain things we do,” said Patane. “And when it’s brought up, let’s give ’em an answer. I don’t think we’ve given them an answer the last couple times.”
Answers will be much later in coming for this budget. Outgoing Governor David Paterson told districts what he was recommending for aid in December of last year, giving them a worst-case-scenario to work with. There’ll be no such information this time. It will wait until after new Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address in mid-January, giving districts only a few months to get the budget in line for a May vote.