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School District Mulls Program Cuts via Two-Tiered System

Residents at Tuesday's meeting frustrated with lack of information.

Three Village elementary schools could face larger class sizes and secondary programs like theater arts, student government, and the high school newspaper could suffer thousands of dollars in cuts, according to a two-tiered breakdown of possible reductions being considered by school board trustees and administrators.

School officials discussed those two levels of program cuts on Tuesday during the third of its five planned budget workshop sessions, but did not immediately provide that document to residents, causing some frustration among those who had attended the meeting on Tuesday.

"I think they were a little ill-prepared for the meeting," said Diane Meyer of South Setauket. "I think parents need this information to make informed decisions about the budget."

Responding to the residents' call for more information, the district posted a document detailing the two levels of program cuts on its website on Wednesday morning. The school board took no action, but discussed possibilities such as:

  • Phasing out the IG Program (intellectually gifted) at Mount Elementary over three years, which would save the district $80,000 in 2011-12;
  • Restructuring academic intervention services in elementary math, including eliminating five para positions, which would save the district $250,000;
  • Cutting five full-time librarians at the elementary level, which would save the district $400,000;
  • Elimination of at least seven full-time equivalent positions in secondary math, science, social studies and global language, which would collectively save the district about $672,000;
  • Elimination of theater arts as a junior high school course offering and instead offering it as an after-school activity, which would save $96,000;
  • Elimination of all $15,600 in funding for The Kaleidoscope, the Ward Melville school newspaper;
  • Reduce funding for the school musical by $5,000;
  • Restructure the student government course offerings as an after-school activity, which would save $64,000.

Trustee Diane Peritore suggested cuts to the secondary math program be taken off the table and cited new state graduation requirements in science that may not make it possible to make cuts in that department. She also questioned the idea of reductions in library staffing.

"If we’re going to let go all the clerical and all the librarians, who’s going to staff the libraries?" she asked. "Are we just going to lock the doors and not have our kids use the libraries?"

Trustee Glen Whitney cautioned against eliminating specialized programs – such as the marine biology program the district axed a few years ago – saying that programs like that give Three Village a unique identity. He used music composition as an example.

"I think it’s important to provide that kind of experience," he said. "I think it would be sad … if we ended up being sort of another generic, faceless school district."

Trustee Jonathan Kornreich suggested the administration look at redistricting to balance enrollment in the schools, which he said would provide savings down the line.

"One of our schools, for example, was at a high enrollment of over 1,000. It’s now in the 700s," he said. "Elementary enrollment is projected to continue to decline in this district. In order to really do it wisely, it’s something we should get a couple years' lead time on so we can do it right."

Board president John Diviney suggested the administration explore cuts in school security assignments, particularly at the high school level, which has 15 different posts. He called it a "private army" that needs to be controlled.

"That group has to understand that the world is changing," Diviney said. "As far as I’m concerned I would just cut half of it and see what happens."

The gap between expected revenues and expenditures was previously identified as $9.7 million, but Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said Tuesday that additional reserves would be used to cut that gap down to $7 million.

If the district is fored to operate on a contingency budget, possible changes include an eight-period school day at the secondary level, which would save the district $1.1 million; elimination of PM school and FOCUS program, both of which serve students with alternative educational needs, to collectively save over $215,000; and to save around $840,000.

The board is expected to formally adopt a budget in April. The 2011 budget vote is set for Tuesday, May 17.

Lederer Seeks Concessions from Unions

Interim superintendent Neil Lederer said Tuesday he is in the process of talking to the district's 13 collective bargaining groups for possible givebacks or other money-saving arrangements.

One of the district's major areas of cost increases is contractual increases in salaries and benefits, with the district's expenditures expected to increase by $2 million in 2011-12, according to budget documents.

"I’m meeting with the leadership of many unions, and it’s very confidential," Lederer said. "We can’t disclose that to the public until they’re finalized and accepted by the union and the BOE."

One resident asked whether the district could simply freeze salaries, but Diviney explained an across-the-board freeze was not possible and said the process "is not that simple."

"The lieutenant governor [of New York state] suggested we could just freeze salaries," Diviney said. "It’s a little scary that the lieutenant governor doesn’t have a working knowledge of the laws of New York state. That’s the process of trying to reach an agreement with the units."

With reporting by Micah Danney.

Mary Lamb March 18, 2011 at 11:33 AM
The Town of Brookhaven recently went through a similiar "fiscal crisis" and the threats of layoffs. The white collar unit made concessions to their contract and it was sufficient enough to save anyone from unemployment. However painful, perhaps the concessions are the way to go. Their is no point, however, if the district does not make drastic cuts to spending. We need a new norm as far as entrance level salaries, step increases, etc. The taxpayer can no longer afford to have their school taxes increased annually. 70% of our tax bill is from the school district-not the town!!
Johny Q March 21, 2011 at 01:54 PM
All they have to do is cut a few of the top unnecesary administrative jobs and the District will save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. How many superintedents and assistant to the assistant superintendent jobs do we really need? Especially at 200,000 a pop. Every year the budget passes because of A.) voter apathy and B) support from teachers who live in the district but work outside, yet everyone cries when the Real Estate taxes go through the roof.

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