Now it’s up to the voters.
By a vote of 3-2, the Elwood Board of Education adopted a 2011-12 budget totaling $53,949,930 which reflects a budget-to-budget increase of $2,842,850 or 5.56%. The resulting tax-levy increase is $2,951,492 or 7.98%. That translates into a $229.41 tax rate per $100 of assessed value, an 8.91% increase. A PDF of the budget worksheet is attached to this article.
Board President Michael Kazubski and Trustee Andrew Kaplan cast the opposing votes.
To help residents determine their new tax amount, the district has posted a tax estimator on their website. For example, residents paying taxes on homes assessed at $4000 would see an increase of $751 added to their tax bill.
The final numbers are basically in line with what the administration had proposed at the April 7 budget meeting, with the exception of a newly added $50,000 reduction in overtime costs for non-instructional staff during the summer. Music, the arts, athletics, and a restructured Science Research program at John Glenn High School have been restored in response to public outcry regarding the effects that a 3.74% contingency budget would have had on programs.
However, staff, including custodial and clerical, has been reduced by 18.6 FTEs, and the full day kindergarten program has been reduced to a half-day without lunch.
The original proposed budget, which would have kept all programs and staff fully in place, would have meant a 12.53% tax levy for residents.
Not Giving Up on Full-Day Kindergarten
It was a long night of number crunching as trustees sough ways to save full-day kindergarten, which should have received full-day aid from the state but which has seen that aid frozen in half.
Trustee Dan Ciccone had previously suggested adding a half-day of enrichment programming taught by teaching assistants. However, he explained that use of TAs for instructional purposes would likely have run into problems with the Elwood Teachers Alliance and could open the district up to an improper practices charge.
Ciccone suggested adding more money back into the budget while going back to the union and asking them to consider the proposal. “We cannot allow the membership of the Union to become more important than the education of our children.” He spoke of shared sacrifice, and said he was surprised at the response to a poll he had conducted on his blog Elwood Matters, in which half the respondents agreed that education was a shared responsibility – but only if everyone else does their part. “Your value system should not be swayed by the other guy.”
Ciccone also offered other ways to reduce class size and increase classroom efficiency, including the use of the district’s VHS Virtual High School Courses, which can incorporate up to 25 students per semester in various AP classes at a cost of $15,000. Principal Vincent Mulieri said that the VHS program has been offered to students as an option but so far, the school has yet to see 25 students participate per semester. Mulieri said while it’s a great program for college prep, “it’s not for every kid.”
Trustee Andrew Kaplan liked Ciccone’s proposal but addressed the drawbacks. “I think Dan’s proposal is spot-on but we don’t have unit approval.” He suggested a variety of ways to add more money to the budget, including eliminating one section each of kindergarten through third grade to account for the four FTEs lost at the kindergarten level. The following year, he proposed finding a tuition-based partner which could work with the district’s half day program so that those four FTE positions could be restored.
Scordo expressed concern at increasing class size at the elementary school level in favor of saving the full-day program, suggesting instead that staff cuts should be made either at Boyd, Elwood Middle or John Glenn.
Trustee Patricia Matos agreed with Scordo that class size at the elementary school level was important, and cited concerns about the long-term effects that enlarged class size and reduced learning could have on special ed classes in the future.
Kaplan also addressed other ways that the district could save money and achieve a more palatable 6.53% tax levy, including the elimination of the mailing of the Highlights newsletter, which would save the district $22,000. Kaplan also took a lengthy, line-item look at the cost of stipends, suggesting several areas that he felt were ripe for pruning, including the high school’s Volleyball-A-Thon, a charity event which he noted involves almost $4000 in stipends.
Assistant Superintendent Ron Friedman said elimination of stipends could be an issue with the union and PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) and the union; the district would need to examine how chaperones have been used in the past, and if they have been exclusively provided by teaching staff.
Scordo stressed that if a chaperone cut is made, and it’s challenged, that club might not run in the future. Board VP Joseph Fusaro opted to continue looking at Kaplan’s itemized cuts, noting that he had suggested using parent volunteers at sporting events a number of years ago, and that those efforts had been successful.
After much discussion, the Board adopted the $53,949,930 number in part by reducing stipend costs by $20,000 upon further review of Kaplan’s suggestions, and adding in $70,000 to explore options for an enriched kindergarten program.
Future Meetings and the Budget Vote
The next Board of Education meeting will take place May 5 at 7:30 at Residents will vote on the budget on Tuesday, May 17, from 2:00-10:00 PM.