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Hannibal’s First Look at the Next School Budget? Grim.

A first look at Hannibal’s school budget for 2011-2012 wasn’t pretty.  Hannibal’s Board of Education began the process of assembling a new budget by looking at what it will cost to keep everything the district has now.

The answer:  About $470,000 more than this year.  That’s about a 2% increase in spending.  The spending increase number that would show up on budget documents, however, is 5.85%.  That’s because of a $1 million increase in debt service related to the district’s construction projects.  However, that $1 million increase would be offset in the same year by a reimbursement from the state of nearly the exact amount of the increase.

But that number does not include salary increases for teachers, administrators and staff.

Administrators and middle managers took no salary increase for this school year.  Members of the Hannibal Faculty Association and the Hannibal Education Association each received 3.5% raises this year.  The union for office professionals and those workers represented by the CSEA are still negotiating; their contracts have expired.

For next year, the district showed board members that each percent of salary increase will add about $142,000 to the spending budget.  Another 3.5% raise across the board would add about 2 percentage points to the size of the spending increase.

State legislators are considering a plan to force schools and local governments to keep their local tax levy increases to 2% or less, unless 60% of the community votes for a higher amount.

Even if all of the district’s unions agreed to take no salary increase next year, the district would be force to make cuts to fit under the 2% tax increase cap.

“We’ve already cut to, in my opinion, running on a shoestring,” said board member Mike LaFurney.

The district last year cut positions and reduced access to non-mandated services.  They began dismantling an elementary-grades reading program called Reading First that administrators believe helped get Hannibal off the state’s list of underperforming schools.

“If we can sustain the program going in” to next year, “I think that will be a win,” said Superintendent Mike DiFabio.

But he put the chances of that at “slim to none.  We’re barely making it now and we are at the point where the balloon is ready to pop.”

DiFabio said that teachers and staff absorbed this year’s cuts by becoming more ingenious.

“It’s really sad because we’ve got a lot of great teachers and we can’t afford to keep them,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a decline in student performance. We will not be able to keep up with the growth in (state) standards.”

The board met before Governor Cuomo released his budget proposal, one which plans to cut Hannibal’s aid by far more than the statewide average despite his promise to help high-need schools like Hannibal.

Board members will discuss the aid proposal and what they think the district should propose for a maximum tax levy increase during meetings in February.