Hannibal’s Board of Education asked administrators to put dollar amounts to their list of possible cutbacks, and to put them in a priority order.
Wednesday, they showed that list of costs and priorities.
They discovered that their list of possible cuts — all of which they said would harm education — would save more than the amount needed to fill the more than $600,000 gap between income and expenses for next school year.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the priority list would eliminate every extracurricular activity at Hannibal, badly damage co-curricular activities like band and chorus, and take another slice from academics.
- Cut all extracurricular activities, saving $53,822. No clubs, no Prom, no Senior Trip (and likely no future trips as fundraising takes several years);
- Eliminate a speech therapist position at Fairley Elementary, saving $22,217;
- Cut all modified sports, saving $98,053. These three cuts make up the administrators’ first priority group of losses;
- Cut the 1/6th music position at the High School, which is the chorus director, saving $2,000 and eliminating chorus;
- Cut a fulltime music teacher position at Kenney Middle School, saving $65,643 but eliminating band and chorus at the middle school level;
- Eliminate all varsity sports, saving $209,820. These three constitute the second priority group. From here, each cut is its own level of priority;
- Next, administrators would eliminate a half-time Social Studies teacher at the high school, saving $51,334 (including the cost savings from replacing a retiring full-time Social Studies teacher), and a half-time English Language Arts teacher at the high school, saving $35.041;
- Eliminate the literacy coach at Fairley, saving $56,473;
- Eliminate a fulltime art teacher at the high school, saving $56,787 but cutting all elective art positions, leaving only the general Studio in Art class;
- Eliminate the fulltime music teacher at Fairley, saving $33,351. Teachers would have to take time away from core instruction to teach music in their classrooms.
That list of cuts would save $684,721, according to the administrators, which would cover the deficit as it stands today.
Beyond that, the administrators said eliminating four K-6 teaching positions, a half-time guidance counselor at the high school, the Fairley art teacher, the half-time science position at the high school and the half-time business position at the high school would cut another $300,000 from expenses.
Those cuts would drastically increase elementary class sizes, lead to more discipline problems at the high school, force elementary teachers to teach art during instruction time, reduce science courses and eliminate the business department entirely, the administrators said.
It’s not a final list. More study is underway on issues such as transportation, and board members could urge the district to shuffle some priorities.
High school Principal Brian Schmitt told the board and the large crowd of community members and staff who packed the meeting that these cuts would do severe damage to the quality of education. He added, “We recognize that these are not just positions, but people. These are members of our family.”
Last year, during a similar round of difficult cuts, a student-led group called Save Our Schools lobbied hard to preserve sports and arts. They largely succeeded. But with so many cuts aimed at basic education, Schmitt urged the board to be persuaded by facts and not by “those groups that are the most vocal in the community.”
The plain truth is that Hannibal’s $658,369 deficit isn’t likely to be the final deficit number. The number does not include any salary increases for next year. The board is asking unions for a wage freeze, though board President Matt Henderson offered no details of the discussions. “We want to work something out, and I think we’ll do it. If we pull together, we can figure it out,” he said.
So Hannibal’s deficit could be larger, but it could also be smaller. The State Senate and Assembly each passed budget bills. Each one shrinks Governor Cuomo’s proposed $1.5 billion aid cut and targets some of the restored money to poor schools or those who get most of their money from state aid.
Governor Cuomo this week signaled his willingness to accept more school aid, so long as lawmakers cut spending elsewhere.
Board member Madeline Pittorf urged the administrators to “look at a broader level” for savings. She asked whether bus runs could be combined, given that enrollment is declining. She also asked how much the district could save if it eliminated busing for students grade 6 and above who live in the village.
Board member Fred Patane said the cost of sports could be reduced, noting that students are often out late at night two nights a week because of sporting events.
The league to which Hannibal belongs, and Section III, have cut back on contests but they also shortened sports seasons, which pack more contests into a shorter time.
“Tell the league to go stuff it,” Patane said. “Why should we pay to go play in the [Carrier] Dome when we can’t educate our kids? The league is arrogant, arrogant, arrogant. They cut a few things [last year] and said, ‘don’t expect it this year’.”
But board member Mike LaFurney pointed out that some JV game referees worked some games for free this year because of the stress on lower-level sports. “That’s a lot more than other people have done who work in this district,” LaFurney said.
The board planned to hold a work session next Wednesday at 7:00 at Fairley Elementary to discuss setting a tax levy limit and to continue the discussion of prioritizing cuts.
The night ended with three young women urging the board to preserve arts programs. “We’re music kids,” one said. “Without exaggerating, music is pretty much our lives. Our light will go out,” if you cut music, she said, giving board members a preview of the difficult discussions and lobbying to come.