GERMANTOWN–About 100 people listened restlessly February 8 as Superintendent of Schools Patrick Gabriel presented his preliminary projected budget for the 2012-13 school year to the Board of Education.
In a detailed two-sided sheet, Mr. Gabriel outlined the reduction of several teaching positions in the elementary school (315 students) and the high school (270 students). Rather than eliminate positions, he had generally reduced “full-time equivalent” positions to part-time. This, he said, would keep layoffs to a minimum and preserve some of each program affected.
In addition, he said, the property tax increase must go well above the 2% allowed by state law. Mr. Gabriel suggested 6.2%, which would require the measure to pass with the support of at least 60% of voters in the annual school budget ballot this May. He further emphasized that a tax increase would not save the school from the need to make $200,000 to $300,000 in budget cuts, wherever they came from, and that making the cuts would not eliminate the need for a tax increase above 2%.
The proposal included no staff cuts because the staff is following a negotiated agreement to give back their raises. This includes the superintendent, the directors of guidance and special education and the two building principals. That agreement runs through June 2012. After that–in the 2013-14 budget year–“the administrative unit is subject to layoffs,” said Mr. Gabriel.
Board member Ralph DelPozzo exploded: “I’ll never, never go with 6.2% plus these reductions,” he promised, to applause from the audience.
Saying he was “keenly aware that people would have difficulty with this proposal,” Mr. Gabriel asked for alternative cuts from the board.
Brittany DuFresne asked him to look at transportation, and she and board president Lynn Clum asked him to look at BOCES services. All agreed when Eric Mortenson asked him to look for any cuts that were not “instructional.”
“But I’d like to see what impact that would have,” said Ms. Clum.
Mr. Gabriel agreed to return to the board February 15 with a revised proposal. With the help of a chart, he pointed out that in the last 11 years, seven out of 11 school budgets had passed with more the approval of more than 60% of the voters, including one year with nine staff reductions. Even double-digit tax levy increases had passed “overwhelmingly,” he said.
“The economy must have been better,” replied Mr. DelPozzo.
When a resident asked what a 6.2% increase would mean to a property assessed at $100,000, Mr. DelPozzo quickly did the math and came up with about $180.
“That’s what people pay for their cell phones,” said the resident. “Every month,” said someone else.
On a house appraised at around $300,000, the increase would be $500 to $600. “Big deal,” said someone, but Mr. DelPozzo noted that for older residents, among others, this could be a great hardship.
“This is a gem of a school, in a small community,” said the first questioner, who has a daughter in the district. “I’ll pay 6.2% more for it.”
The board must approve a budget by April 20 and present it to the public by April 24. The public votes on the budget May 15.