The amount of state aid received and the Consumer Price Index will help determine just how many teachers will get cut in Three Village's 2013-14 school budget.
During his budget presentation at Tuesday's school board meeting, Jeff Carlson, the assistant superintendent for business services, said while those two variables are out of the district's control, they will govern the district's ability to avoid what he called the worst-case scenario of laying off up to 81 teachers.
The district is facing a budget gap of $8.1 million that has to be closed somehow, and rather than solidify a definite number of staff cuts, the district is taking a wait-and-see approach for now. That's because the CPI is due to be announced next week, and New York's state budget is expected to be finalized prior to the legislature's April 1 deadline.
If the Consumer Price Index (CPI) comes in at a low rate or if the state increases the amount of funding for Three Village, "we might be able to close that gap without further reductions in staff," Carlson said.
Here's why the CPI is important: Part of the teachers' contractual raise is tied to the CPI. That means their average salary increase would vary between 5.4 percent and 6.1 percent (though not all teachers would receive that exact increase, due to variations in salary tiers and education credits). The difference between those two average salary increases is about $500,000, which Carlson said would be used to reduce the number of staff and programs cut. At most, the teachers' salary increases will cost the district $4.15 million.
The state Assembly and Senate have also proposed budgets that restore more funding for school districts – including the category of high tax aid, which was initally slashed by about $578,000 in Three Village.
"I think we can be fairly hopeful that we’ll get some more state aid," Carlson said.
An increase in state aid and savings on the teachers' salary increase would mean the layoffs would probably fall at 65.5 full-time positions – a much more realistic estimation, Carlson said.
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However, he said, the district could get hit with a reduction in another category of state funding: building aid, which relates to the district's capital projects. That's because the state re-calibrates the way that type of funding is determined every ten years – and the 2013-14 school year is the expected landfall of that re-calibration.
Though they are far from concrete, two other possibilities exist for additional revenue for the district: payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) from the new Hilton Garden Inn on the campus of Stony Brook, which opened in February; and the lawsuit won by Gyrodyne Co. of America against the state that valued the land in question at $98.7 million more than what the state paid in 2005.
"Theoretically we are due, if that is the value on that property, a lot more money," Carlson said.
The school board will hold additional budget workshops on March 19 and April 9. It must formally adopt a budget on April 9. The budget vote is set for May 21.
Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich called this year's budget process an emotional one, and said the district would welcome more community input.
"Obviously this is an incredibly challenging, difficult process for all of us," she said. "I think we all very are much struggling with 'How do we cut $8.1 million.' ... There is no easy example. We are looking for feedback from the community. As we go forward, the unfortunate reality is there are going to be reductions."