There was a nugget of good news to come out of the Mahopac Central School District Board of Education Finance Committee meeting when it was announced that a forecasted $2.8 million in cuts from next year’s spending plan would be reduced to $2.2 million.
Superintendent Thomas Manko said the amount of expected cuts was reduced by $600,000 after the district received a final report from New York State that the precise tax levy cap for the Mahopac Central School District would in fact be set at 2.72 percent, paired with an increase of $317,000 in state aid.
Manko explained that the tax levy cap legislation allows for some spending to be exempt from the cap, such as a portion of payments to teacher and staff retirement systems and that each school district’s particular cap will be unique depending on individual circumstances.
Manko said that residents must understand the so-called two-percent tax cap was a restriction on the tax levy — or the total pool of money raised through levy on home and property owners in the district — and was not a restriction on the tax rate, or the percentage increase that property owners will see on their tax bills next September.
School district officials presented some preliminary details of the 2012-2013 draft budget, including potential cuts (not including forecasted reductions in faculty and staff positions), areas where spending would actually have to increase and an expected $60,000 rise in revenues from out-of-district student tuition.
All told, those reductions and additions yielded just under a $700,000 reduction in line item spending for next year, leaving another $1.5 million that will have to be cut from the 2012-2013 budget.
“The balance needs to come from staffing,” Assistant Superintendent Don Beverly said of where the additional $1.5 million in spending would be cut.
As proposed, these cuts would entail one teacher at the Falls kindergarten school; four regular teachers, two special education teachers and one music or art teacher at the elementary schools; two regular teachers and one special education teacher at the high school; and four part time positions at the elementary, middle and high schools. In addition, five teaching assistant positions would be eliminated at the elementary schools and two at the high school, as well as a special education aide somewhere in the district.
While the faculty eliminations would not have a great impact on the class size at the elementary school level, Beverly told the Board of Education the proposed eliminations would mean class size in the sixth grade at the middle school would to rise to an estimated 32 students.
During the 2010-2011 budget drafting season, news that faculty eliminations would lead to 32 students per class in the sixth grade spurred a public outcry from parents of students who were headed to the middle school the following September. Ultimately, the positions were restored.
At the Finance Committee meeting, all of the board trustees expressed concern about the sixth grade class size increase and said it deserved further examination.
“I feel that perhaps when we are faced with a deficit in the budget, we automatically look at teachers and how many we need to cut,” said board trustee Raymond Cote, adding that he had been scouring the detailed line items of last year’s budget and believed there were other areas that spending could be reduced to potentially save positions.
Several of the board trustees also said they wanted to discuss the possibility of re-instituting an estimated $30,000 a year to transport private school students on the days when Mahopac schools are closed, something that the school district is not required to do by law and has not funded for the past two years. The matter received increased attention over the past couple of months after a dozen or more parents of parochial school parents attended a Board of Education Transportation Committee meeting to ask that the funding be restored.
In addition to the budget, school district voters also will vote this May on whether or not to approve spending to replace the turf field and the bleachers in the old gym at the high school. If voters approve spending for the two projects, including $600,000 for the turf field and $80,000 for the bleachers, it will not have any impact on school taxes as the money will come from a reserve fund that can only be used for capital improvement projects.
The date of the next Finance Committee meeting has not yet been scheduled, but residents may refer to the school district’s website for updates of when meetings will be held at www.mahopac.k12.ny.us.