It’s a tough choice for the : Keep services the same and ask taxpayers to shoulder a 13.33% tax levy. Or eliminate $3.5 million by cutting athletics, field trips, co-curricular activities – all the things that a community not only hopes for but expects from its school district – to which the Board of Education has requested.
The scary part about Elwood’s budget picture isn’t the $3.5 million, as Superintendent Peter Scordo explained at the March 3 budget workshop. It is how limited the district is in its choices of where to cut, and how little those savings amount to. The "Budget Review andPossible Reductions" presentation is attached to this article.
For example, athletics accounts for $794,998, or 1.43% of the total budget. Field trips amount to another $53,801. Add in reductions in equipment, textbooks, workbooks, materials and supplies, and co-curricular expenses and the total equals $2,257,916 – still not enough to reach the $3.5 million goal.
But why those particular cuts?
There's More to Mandates Than Meets the Eye
As Scordo pointed out in his outline of possible reductions, nearly 45% of Elwood’s $55,633,473 budget is composed of mandated, non-negotiable costs, including health insurance, social security, contributions to the Employee Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System.
Those are the mandates and terms that taxpayers probably hear about the most. Trustee Dan Ciccone cited other examples of unfunded mandates that the district is required to pay. For instance, transportation must be provided to all students, regardless of whether they attend public school. That means the district – and therefore, taxpayers -- must pay to transport those students who attend private schools as well.
Another big area is assessment and testing mandates. “It’s a big expense,” Ciccone said, “and there are other ways of getting the data.” He also pointed out that the district is required to pay an architect a fee each year to go over each building even if nothing has changed. “Every year we have to do it.”
Ciccone suggested that Scordo add these costs into the list of line items so that the public could clearly see the extent of mandated, non-negotiable items over which the district has no control. And he suggested that the public lobby Albany and local legislators. “They’re screwing with our kids and we’ve got to stand up to that.”
Closing the Gap
“The challenge is we’re going to have to go to staff – it’s the only place left to go,” Scordo said, noting that the elimination of 18 full-time positions would equal $1,170,000 – enough to meet the $3.5 million. He cited one happy note: the addition of $312,795 to the bottom line due to changes in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) contribution rates, an additional retiree, a reduction for one potential BOCES placement and reductions in summer school placements which were paid for by the state.
At the next budget workshop, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 10 at the , Scordo said the administration will have a preliminary idea of staffing needs and possible reductions, and will be prepared to discuss the possibility of reducing full day kindergarten to half day.
“I’m not going to ask you to make a decision about full-day kindergarten next week,” he told Board members, but added that the decision would need to be made soon so that parents would be able to plan ahead.
The bigger picture was even more bleak. “It’s the year after next year that I’m concerned about,” Scordo acknnowledged. “If we cut now and a cap is imposed, and we’ve already cut to the bone, how are we going to budget for next year?”