Next year's proposed M-W school budget would increase tax levy by 3.94%

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:21

    Retirements and resignations, rather than layoffs, critical in holding spending to less than 1%, By Bob Quinn Central Valley - Residents in the Monroe-Woodbury School District will decide May 17 on a proposed 2011-12 budget that increases spending by less than 1 percent while increasing the tax levy by 3.94 percent. The $149 million spending proposal, outlined by School Superintendent Edward J. Mehrhof at Monday’s school board meeting, was achieved without layoffs. However, there will be change: Sixteen teachers retired; six probationary teachers resigned. Only four teachers will be replaced. Ten teaching assistants also retired; one part-time TA resigned. Those positions have been eliminated. Eleven people on the support staff also retired. None is scheduled to be replaced. The district will consolidate several of its bus runs for elementary school students. Two after-school bus runs will be eliminated. The district is eliminating freshman-level boys football and baseball as well as boys and girls basketball. This is a trend that other schools in Section 9 athletics also are taking. These athletes will have the option of trying out for the junior varsity teams. Some clubs will be consolidated or eliminated, although exactly which ones was not disclosed on Monday’s meeting because Merhof said he had not yet had the time to brief all the club advisors. He told school board members that he would let them know by Friday. School board members were keen to know what criteria was used in cutting these extracurricular activities. The number of students in any particular club was considered, it was not the telling factor, school officials said. For instance, if a club had only 10 or so members, but it was an unique activity for those students, it would be spared. De facto hiring freeze The district has had what amounts to a hiring freeze for the last three years. That’s meant that a total of 39 teaching positions have been eliminated in that time. Several board members asked whether the latest reduction in the teaching staff would mean an increase in class size; not necessarily, administrators told them. Several other factors are at play. As things stand now in Albany, the district expects to see $3.8 million less in state aid. Merhof called this the “Gov. Cuomo Tax.” He said the unadjusted tax levy would have been $101.5 million, but that increases to $105.4 million with the loss of state aid. Since the state budget has not yet been approved by the state Senate and Assembly, state aid could change. Should the district receive additional funds, Merhof and his staff said the funds would be use in some combination to reduce the tax levy and to restore positions. The district also is using a $1.5 million federal jobs retention grant. School Board President Dr. Michael DiGeronimo stressed that this money was being used to defer the loss of as many as 15 jobs. The money is only good for one year, and there’s no guarantee that lawmakers in Washington will replenish it. He also made a point of thanking the presidents of the district bargaining units for their help in holding down costs and working with school officials to create this spending plan. Next: April 13: School board scheduled to vote to adopt the budget. May 4: Public hearing on the spending plan. May 17: Budget vote and election of trustees.

    By the numbers
    The following items represent the summary of how Monroe-Woodbury School officials reduced the proposed 2011-12 spending plan by $5 million through retirements, reductions and eliminations:
    $145,108: The salary for assistant superintendent for curriculum. The responsibilities have been reassigned to Sapphire Elementary School Principal Charlene A. Kelemen and Middle School Principal Elsie Rodriguez.
    $2,612,595: Sixteen teachers have retired; six probationary teachers have resigned. Only four positions will be replaced.
    $509,045: Ten teaching assistants, plus one part-time TA, have retired. None will be replaced.
    $399,553: Eleven members of the support staff have retired. While all positions will be reviewed, none are scheduled to be replaced.
    $400,944: This category involves service reductions, such as the decrease in overtime for the custodial staff, reduced overtime for security staff and an adjustment in how BOCES programs are used and who qualifies.
    $86,926: The category modifies programs such as Expand and Odyssey of the Mind. The district will fund only two, not three, OM teams from each school. School officials said only six schools in the county will continue the program at all. Meanwhile, adjustments to the Expand programs will not affect the elementary schools.
    $377,500: Three elementary schools bus runs will be eliminated through consolidation. The district also will reduce after-school buses among other efficiencies in staffing and bus scheduling.
    $283,832: The district will eliminate all freshman sports, which includes boys football and baseball and boys and girls basketball. Athletic Director George St. Lawrence said most other schools in the Section 9 sports association also have eliminated specific teams for ninth-graders; the district would have added transportation costs if this level of competition was maintained. Modified, junior varsity and varsity sports remain intact, save for the state and section reduction in games.
    Meanwhile, the district also is looking to consolidate and eliminate clubs. Those were not disclosed at Monday’s meeting because Mehrhof said he had not had time yet to discuss the changes with all the club advisors. He is expected to disclose the list to board members by Friday.
    $184,497: The district has reworked its printer and copier contract at a savings of about $120,000. Among other savings, the district will published the school newspaper and literary magazine online rather than print.

    Building renovations
    School Superintendent Edward Mehrhof has recommended the district spend $300,000 in 2011-12 to make the following renovations:
    Repair/replace boilers at Pine Tree Elementary, Smith Clove Elementary and the Harriman Learning Center.
    Replace the water softener at the High School.
    Install new unit vents at the Middle School.
    Renovate bathrooms at the Middle School.
    Replace doors at the Middle School.
    Mehrhof said his office would study of how much it could cost to make classrooms suitable to bring special education students back into the district. While that remains a district goal, no plans are funded in the proposed budget.
    This also is an item that would be eliminated should voters defeat the budget in May.