There were many items on the agenda for Hannibal’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, but the discussion kept coming back to the one issue that matters most: the upcoming school budget.
Superintendent Mike DiFabio last week told the Board of Education that they could cut everything not required by law — sports, music, clubs, some teachers and aides, snow plowing, textbooks and more — and it would cover only $1 million of a $1.7 million deficit.
That news — reported here and then spread by DiFabio in meetings with the staffs of the district’s three buildings — drew a large and concerned crowd to Wednesday’s meeting.
“The budget cuts are all the students are talking about,” said student Spencer Kenney. She said students are concerned about the loss of sports and music, but also the loss of advanced courses that can provide college credit.
Resident John Metelsky asked later, “can your mothers or fathers pay the (tax) bill that comes in the mail?”
Parent Michelle Freeman was upset over the loss of a program that she said helped her daughter improve her math grades 11 points in 10 weeks.
Parent Mary Raymond said cutting sports, music and drama could hurt a student’s chances of getting into a college. “Give the taxpayers the chance to say yes,” she said.
Nancy Perry of the sports booster group said they had raised money to fund some sports teams in the past, but warned that “Boosters will not again attempt to raise funds to support programs.”
The main problem is an unanticipated loss of state aid. As part of his plans to fill a $9 billion deficit in the state budget due April 1, Gov. David Paterson cut state aid as much as 5% from last year’s levels. In wealthy districts, the cut can be absorbed. But land-poor districts such as Hannibal get most of their money from state aid and can’t make it up easily from property taxpayers.
DiFabio explained that the district saw this crisis coming and had been planning for it. However, everyone felt that this crisis wouldn’t hit its peak until the 2012-2013 budget. “We’re there now,” he said. “We’re going into a big ditch.”
The board is hoping to find a little relief from the district’s unions. They decided to invite the heads of the district’s unions to a private meeting next Monday or Tuesday, where they will be asked to consider contract givebacks. Another meeting was tentatively scheduled for the week after that, to give the unions time to consider what they’ll do.
“We’re inviting anybody who wants to talk to us about saving money for the school,” said board member Fred Patane. “You’ve got students here asking us for help. I want to see employees stand up and help out. I’m sick of it.”
Patane said the board members would be at the meeting whether anyone else showed up or not.
Later, the board took the rare step of rejecting tentative agreements with two of its unions, the Supervisor’s Association and the Administrator-Supervisory Association. The unions have been working without contracts since last July. The agreements were reached in January after talks with a mediator.
Board vice president Matt Henderson explained that the money was in the current budget to pay for the current school year and the second year of the deal contained a clause allowing talks to be reopened.
Board members and members of the audience ended the night by discussing ideas such as consolidation, reducing athletic travel and more. But Henderson said, “Unless somebody’s got a check for 800 grand or a magic wand, it’s going to continue.”
“We have to find a way,” he said.