School board officials unveiled its preliminary 2012-13 budget at Tuesday's board meeting and revealed a grim reality: under the new two percent tax cap, the district will have no choice but to cut staff.
According to a 2012-13 budget presentation by Assistant Superintendent Robert Bartells, the new two percent tax cap allows the district to increase its budget by only $1.5 million over the current fiscal plan. The proposed budget for 2012-13, however, has an increase of $3.1 million — or about 3.2 percent. The majority of increases are in items the district has little control over like salaries, health insurance and retirement contributions, social security costs and transportation, he said.
The largest increase in the 2012-13 budget, Bartells said, is in salaries — up $1.85 million — and noted that salary increases alone exceeds the projected tax levy limit. He explained that the district would need a supermajority — a 60 percent affirmative vote — from residents to pass the proposed budget containing a 3.2 percent increase.
If the district wants to stay under the tax cap — and by all accounts it does — it would need to cut $1.4 million out of the 2012-13 budget, Bartells said. That fiscal plan would only need 50 percent of voters to approve it. Under the new tax cap law, if the budget is defeated twice, the district must adopt a contingency budget with a zero percent increase.
Finding $1.4 million to cut, however, is the problem, Bartells said. The district will use a portion of its reserve to deflect its employee retirement system contributions, and will roll all programs forward. "Every year we will have this issue of staying in the tax levy limit," he said.
Board President Liz Dion was clear that the district will not cut $1.4 million out of the budget by trimming small items like supplies. "We're not finding $1.4 million going line by line," she said. "We're looking at everyone and everything. Staffing cuts are coming."
Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said that with staff cuts comes the discussion of increasing class sizes throughout the district. He said he wants to retain the integrity of the school district, but look at the way services and programs are put together. "The only way to get there (under the two percent cap) is by reducing staff and personnel in the school district."
Dion noted that district officials will look at every class of employee. "Pain will be felt by all," she said.
When asked if the district could reopen the teachers contract and renegotiate its terms, Johnson said the only way that could happen is if the teacher's union agreed to reopen contract discussions.
School administrators in the district's seven schools submitted less than a zero percent increase in their individual 2012-13 budgets, and areas other than salaries that increased were in physical education (up nearly $30,000) and curriculum and instruction (up nearly $60,000).
District Athletic Director Carol Roseto said the $30,000 increase is due to the addition of a boys swim team at the high school. Chris Pelletieri, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the $60,000 increase are costs associated with unfunded mandates, state-required new testing models and the Annual Professional Performance Review training, which is also state required.
The next 2012-13 budget meeting is on Feb. 7 at South Side High School.