Not So Clear-Cut: Budget Cuts Across District Cause Confusion

By Kara Kupferberg

Over the summer, several improvements have been made to South’s campus. The district installed a new digital sign on Lakeville Road, renovated science classrooms, and is currently redoing the lacrosse field.
At the same time, many new teachers are now splitting their time between South and another school. Furthermore, this year more classes are approaching an average of 25-27 students, rather than the average of 21-23 students of a few years ago.
For years, the district has discussed “budget cuts” as a nebulous concept looming in the distant future. This year, though, some of the effects of budget limitations are first being felt. In addition to some classes expanding in number, some classes that had a low number of students this year had to be cut, even though these same classes may have continued on in the past.
Three years ago, New York State passed a law that capped school taxes at 2%. This means that although many may feel that the community would be willing to pay over that figure to support the school district and its students, the district cannot propose anything that exceeds that 2% tax cap.
Many students and teachers find it puzzling that funds are available for new projects, such as the new sign, but not for more salaries, hence more teachers. Fundamentally, the building and grounds funds are separate from the funds that go towards paying teachers’ salaries. Therefore, although the district recently voted to spend $17 million for the 2012 Capital Projects for the entire district from funds that have been saved over the years, this money cannot be used to hire new teachers. Projects allocated to South totaled $2.6 million from that sum. Many costs are supplemented by the $4.76 million saved from prior years. While the school building budget, which pays for books, supplies, and technology, will likely not be affected in the future, these future cuts will still most importantly affect salaries.
For many years, the number of retiring teachers was in accord with the change in student population. Thus, when many teachers retired they were simply not replaced. Now, as fewer teachers are eligible for retirement, the district has had many teachers begin to split their time between multiple schools in the district. Overall, strategic personnel reductions will save the district about $2.5 million in the 2013-14 school year.
According to the district website, John Powell, Assistant Superintendent for Business, said, “A school district is a service-oriented entity, one where salaries and benefits are our number-one cost, accounting for approximately 77% of our budget. Unfortunately, the only way to significantly reduce costs in a public school budget is to r educe personnel.”
This explains why the district cannot budget all of its money on providing salaries and benefits for its employees; there must also be money set aside for other things. Also, certain funds are restrained to specific purposes, such as improving facilities.
Noting budget changes and restraints, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Dolan said, “These are tough times, and we are doing our best to maintain quality education in every way possible.”