JULIE LANE PHOTO | Shelter Island Board of Education member Linda Eklund questioned whether there are ways to use fewer substitute teachers to save money in the 2013-14 school year during Wednesday night’s budget discussion.
The Shelter Island Board of Education might have to find ways to cut more than $170,000 in proposed spending for the 2013-14 school year to avoid having to pierce a state-imposed tax cap.
With all the good news about increased state funding in recent weeks, the district is still losing federal Title I and Title II funding amounting to about $39,000. The losses are due to census figures showing reduced numbers of students from low-income families. The federal cuts take away money the district used this year to pay for a part-time social worker.
As of Wednesday night, the board was looking at a draft proposal to spend $10.27 million next year, up from $9.7 million in the current school year. The board was also considering using $325,000 from the district’s $837,000 fund balance — money allotted for unforeseen expenses — to offset costs, but that still requires serious considerations about where to cut spending.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Hynes also cautioned board members that while the district’s fund balance is more than double the 4 percent the state allows school districts, within four years it could be reduced to zero if the district continues to transfer money to offset spending increases.
Dr. Hynes pointed out that 4 percent might be very adequate for large school districts to meet unexpected expenses, but not so much for a small district like Shelter Island.
But when the board tried to save money a couple of years ago by eliminating its librarian’s position, the state pointed to the excess in the fund balance as a reason why that wouldn’t be allowed, Board President Stephen Gessner said.
“The board will need to make some tough, tough decisions,” Dr. Hynes said, challenging members to come up with suggestions in the short-term while still keeping an eye on long-term ramifications over the next five years.
Balancing the budget while continuing to improve the academic program is “not easy to do,” the superintendent said.
He pointed to mandated increases in spending for the next school year, including a 27 percent hike in payments to the Teachers Retirement System, totalling $134,757; a 9.75 percent hike, or $19,045, for payments to the Employees Retirement System; a 27.67 percent increase in the cost of health insurance to the tune of $306,449; and a 3.8 percent raise in salaries, amounting to $183,332.
The district also has debt service payments that will amount to $220,944 in principal and interest; and $10,0000 in interest for tax anticipation notes that will have to be taken to cover expenses while awaiting income from taxes.
And there’s no good news on the horizon for the pension fund payments — at least in the next couple of years, said Donald Hoffman of Cullen & Danowski, Shelter Island’s accounting firm. Hikes may begin to level off, but Mr. Hoffman doesn’t expect to see decreases in payments in 2014-15, either. Pension costs are based on a formula that includes returns on investments in the stockmarket, but it lags a few years from what the market is doing in any given year.
While continuing to recommend that spending cuts focus on budget areas that would have the least effect on students, Dr. Hynes said cuts could come from a wide scope of personnel and services — including his own position. The district must have a principal, but isn’t required to have a superintendent, Dr. Hynes said. Nor is it required to have an academic administrator, the role filled by Jennifer Rylott, even though Dr. Hynes has been clear about the importance of her work in the district’s efforts to improve the education of its students.
It also doesn’t have to employ a business manager. Or cuts could come by rollbacks in certain programs, Dr. Hynes said. He pointed to such areas as reading, physical education, music, arts, guidance, library services, building maintenance, cafeteria workers, food and even door monitors who are part of the school’s recent efforts to beef up security.
Dr. Hynes outlined three scenarios for consideration by the board using different amounts from the fund balance. They’re based on taking $225,000, $275,0000 or the current amount in the budget draft of $325,000 and applying it to the 2013-14 spending.
School board members made it clear they’re looking for small cuts in various areas that they hope could add up to at least $100,000.
Board member Linda Eklund asked for a rundown on the cost of substitute teachers, wondering if the $72,000 budgeted is actually used and if so, what might be done to try to cut back on that expense. She talked about the possibility of using aides and limiting the number of teachers chaperoning field trips.
Mark Kanarvogel wanted to know the actual costs of the school’s drivers education program, wondering if some money might be saved by asking parents to pay toward that activity. Elizabeth Melichar wanted specifics about responsibilities in the business office.
But talk about cutting back on cafeteria menus met with some hesitation. Ms. Eklund pointed out that for some students, it may be the only hot meal they get in a day. And Mr. Kanarvogel said one year there was a cut in expenditures for the cafeteria and the food was “inedible.”
Thomas Graffagnino wanted to know how many students are in the program that provides free or reduced cost lunches, concerned about any cuts that could effect those low-income students.
Dr. Hynes promised to research the various questions and provide information at Monday night’s budget meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the school library. A follow up budget meeting has also been set for April 17 at 6:30 p.m.
On April 24, the board expects to approve the budget request it will put before voters on May 21.