Pearl River school board member Michael Clohessy joined the administration and other board members in answering questions about the proposed 2013-14 district budget during Tuesday's meeting in the district administration building.
"When we sit up here and have to decide what gets cut and what doesn't get cut, when I go home, I don't sleep," Clohessy said. "It affects every kid in the district. When we were holding meetings at the high school (where they were held until early 2012), I was saying this is coming. We're going to be hit and it's going to be devastating. It's just going to get worse. This is the beginning."
The need for cuts led to two resolutions Tuesday that eliminate 17.7 teaching and clerical positions, some of which were part time, to allow the district to make up a $1.7 million deficit to keep the district under the state mandated tax cap for 2013-14. The resolutions are attached to this report. A 0.6 ELA academic intervention services teacher was also added at the high school, for a net reduction of 17.1 positions.
"We looked at the numbers. What if we don’t do it now? What if we put things off?" Pearl River Superintendent Dr. John Morgano said. "If we put it off, there is a cumulative effect and it just comes back to haunt you. The reality of the two percent tax increase is you can’t raise the money. When the teacher retirement system bill goes up $1 million in one year and that eats up almost all of your two percent tax increase, that’s what you are stuck with. We can’t go to the tax payers and ask them for a six percent tax increase."
Pearl River Director of Operations Quinton Van Wynen first reported the deficit, and predicted shortfalls in the years that follow, in January.
"After doing an analysis, we determined we had a significant deficit not just for 2013-14, but stretching in the next few years," Van Wynen said. "So we determined one of our goals would be to eliminate the potential $1.7 million deficit for 2013-14.
"The reason to eliminate the deficit this first year of what we look to be a multiyear plan is our analysis indicated that over three years our deficit would be over $6 million. By eliminating the $1.7 in the first year, it would automatically be eliminated in the second and the third years, so that our deficits we will have to deal with in 2014-15 and 2015-16 will be reduced to $900,000 and $700,000. Much more manageable numbers as we move forward."
The result is a $63.4 million proposed budget that includes a 1.68% tax increase for residents and six percent increase for non-homestead taxpayers. The actual tax levy increase is 3.5%, but with the exceptions built into the state law, Pearl River will be under the cap.
"We may at some point need to go to them and ask for more than (the tax cap), but the first or second year out is not the time to do that," Morgano said.
The proposed budget adopted Tuesday could still be changed before it goes on the ballot May 21. It does reflect the changes presented during budget presentations going back to in their respective buildings and departments.
"When we asked our principals and directors for suggestions of what to cut, they agonized over it," Morgano said. "It wasn’t that they said this would be good to cut. We asked them, give us what you can lose that’s not mandated that will hurt kids the least. Not that it won’t impact kids, but it will hurt the least. Everything impacts kids. Otherwise we would have been wasting your money before."
The cuts include 10.3 teaching positions and 7.4 support positions. The district is also eliminating freshman sports teams and cutting down on overtime.
With the reductions staff come changes in programs including:
- Elimination of PREP Program in elementary schools
- Elimination of Challenge Program in Pearl River Middle School
- Elimination of Learning Center in middle school
- Elimination of librarians in elementary school
- Transfer of consortium classes to BOCES
- Elimination of teacher assistant support in middle school classes
- Elimination of freshman teams and winter dance team
- Elimination of two clerical positions
- Elimination of .5 speech and .4 psychologist
- Changes to high school art, world language and social studies
Resident Denise Anselmi spoke out against the elimination of librarians at the elementary schools. Clerks will keep the libraries open during the school day with teachers taking over the instruction in library skills.
Melissa Anselmi argued that the district is taking too much away from children with special needs.
"I am so disgusted that this blue ribbon district takes everything away from special needs," Anselmi said. "Where are the kids who need special help supposed to go? What resources are there for them?
"Kids are not getting classified any more, so they are not getting the building level services. You are taking away from special needs when you could be taking away from spots. It's very frustrating to sit here and listen to this."
Board member Bruce Bond disputed the claim that the district is choosing sports over special needs.
"We try to balance it out as much as possible," Clohessy said of the cuts.
Resident Michael Mandel was more specific, questioning the ongoing support of the hockey program, which costs approximately $60,000 out of the district's $1 million budget for sports. That entire budget includes the full time director of athletics and secretary, 63 total teams among varsity, junior varsity and modified and intramural programs.
Another parent asked about increasing costs of administration salaries. Van Wynen pointed out that the administrators did renegotiate their contract with the district to give back part of the salary increases, as did most of the district's bargaining units.
Morgano pointed out that the district did make one reduction in its administration in 2011 when Sandy Cokeley retired a few months after he had taken over as Superintendent. Most of her duties were combined with personnel to create the Director of Human Resources and Community Services, Diana Musich's position.
Editor's Note: The Pearl River 2013-14 Budget Vote will e May 21 in Pirate Cove at Pearl River High School.