EducationThe Putnam Examiner

Carmel Board of Ed Facing Challenge of Cutting $6M in Budget

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The Carmel Board of Education learned last week it is facing a challenging task of having to cut about $6 million in the proposed 2024-25 district budget.

Even with a reduction of $6 million, property owners are looking at a 3.5% tax levy increase, which is within the allowable state tax cap, if the $151.8 million budget is approved on May 21. If no cuts are made, residents would be hit with a 9.5% tax levy hike.

The board was told of the district’s dire financial straits at its Feb. 27 work session, where John Fink, Assistant Superintendent of Business, said administrators only became aware of the situation in early February.

“To get to $6 million we’re talking massive cuts,” Interim Superintendent of Schools Joseph McGrath remarked. “We have to brace ourselves and figure out how to move forward. It’s important that cooler heads prevail.”

Anticipated double-digit increases in health insurance and liability costs, coupled with lower than expected state aid, are contributing to the district’s heavy reliance on tax levy to maintain programs, according to McGrath.

Several trustees expressed frustration with the lack of specific details from administrators on what programs were in danger of being eliminated, with John Curzio calling what the board was presented “a watered down, birds eye view budget.”

“I looks like we’re talking about every program that’s not mandated. I just want to rip the Bandaid off,” Trustee Melissa Orser said. “To put the Board of Education in this position is very unfair.”

Only when pressed by trustees did Fink offer some potential cuts administrators were identifying. They included eliminating kindergarten ($1.7 million); sports programs ($1.1 million); alternative high school ($200,000); three full-time Business Dept. teachers at the high school ($662,000); two nurses ($208,000); one assistant principal ($180,000); and buses ($810,000).

This year’s budget was approved by residents by only 104 votes.

“We owe the public the greatest transparency possible,” said Trustee James Wise.

Meanwhile, the district is also planning to present residents with a $15 million safety and security referendum on May 21.

Curzio stressed it was important for the Carmel and Kent police departments to weigh-in on what is being proposed.

“The more eyes from experts on this the better,” he said. “There’s a huge trust factor between the community and the district.”

The board is expected to discuss the referendum and budget in further detail at its March 12 meeting.

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