Proposed SWR budget cuts back use of reserves

Superintendent Steven Cohen (left) said on Tuesday night that spending under his proposed budget for next year would increase by about 1 percent. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Superintendent Steven Cohen (left) said on Tuesday night that spending under his proposed budget for next year would increase by about 1 percent. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

While the revenue side of the equation will be explained at a later date, Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen said Tuesday that under his 2014-15 budget proposal, district cost increases would be held to 1 percent — and the equivalent of about 15 positions could be eliminated through retirements, staff redeployments and some layoffs. 

The district is expected to spend about $3 million in reserves under his proposal, Mr. Cohen said, which he added is less dependent on the use of the district’s appropriated fund balances; specifically, it will use about $1.3 million less in reserves than was proposed for the current school year.

“The trend here is we need less reliance on savings and our overall plan for expenditures is reduced,” Mr. Cohen said.

On Wednesday morning, the superintendent said using less reserve money in future years is the key to getting the district on a sound financial footing.

“If we use approximately $3 million of the fund balance for next year, I’m confident we will have that money,” he said. “Beyond that, I don’t know. Predicting the appropriated fund balance out years is a tricky thing to do.”

The superintendent said plans to excess positions wouldn’t necessarily equate to layoffs. Though layoffs would still be possible under his proposal, it remains to be seen how many might be necessary until retirements are more finalized.

“We have few employees who will be ‘let go’ entirely,” he wrote in an email. “Instead more employees’ jobs will be reduced in scope, or [people] will not be replaced when they retire.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Cohen said the district is on track to reduce program expenditures in 2014-15 by 0.55 percent — totaling nearly $361,500 over the current $66 million budget. In addition, another $1.08 million in capital improvement costs would need to be approved by the school board, bringing overall costs for next year up slightly year-over-year.

He said the plan is made achievable by several cost-cutting measures, including reorganizing both the elementary school program and support staff for teachers. Mr. Cohen said current programing is maintained in his preliminary spending plan. Smaller class sizes are also realized in the proposed budget, he said, with projections of 20 to 24 students in elementary classes and fewer than 30 in secondary school classes.

Mr. Cohen has said the district is currently subsidizing programming with about $5.5 million from a combination of reserve accounts: the appropriated fund balance (about $4.33 million), the tax reduction reserve, known as prior year state aid ($999,995), and nearly $227,100 from the employee retirement system reserve.

For next year’s budget, the superintendent is proposing that the district allocate only about $3 million from the appropriated fund balance account and $300,000 from an additional reserve fund related to unemployment.

“In both of those senses, we’re making progress,” he said at the meeting. “At the same time, no one should be under the impression that we are out of the woods.

“In this particular sense, we are $3 million in the red and it’s important to keep that in mind because we’re still in need of a subsidy for our programs,” he said. “It’s just that the subsidy is being reduced.”

Last month, Mr. Cohen said he will move forward with a 2014-15 budget that does not include funding for Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham. He has discussed three possible uses for the current kindergarten and first-grade building: transforming it into a pre-kindergarten building (pending state funding for such programs), leasing the space or leaving it vacant.

Mr. Cohen has also recommended turning Miller Avenue Elementary School into a kindergarten through second-grade primary school and making Wading River Elementary School a third- through fifth-grade intermediate school. He has said this reconfiguration model, called the Princeton Plan, is designed to enhance educational opportunities by grouping elementary school teachers and students by grade in the same buildings and reducing staffing levels.

Estimated savings from the reorganization of the elementary school program, including eliminating one principal position, would fall between $1.8 million and $2 million, according to Mr. Cohen’s Jan. 7 financial presentation.

The superintendent also pitched replacing a secondary assistant principal and nine teacher stipends — called Subject Area Leader positions — with two director positions. That arrangement, he said, could save about $100,000.

Mr. Cohen also suggested allocating about $1.08 million for capital repairs in the district, including roofs at the high school and middle school, a high school public address system and various repairs at Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools. Those costs would require board approval.

The school board asked the superintendent to include those expenses in the budget, along with costs connected to other construction projects, to make district facilities ADA compliant.

Mr. Cohen is expected to continue his budget presentation at next Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Jennifer@timesreview.com

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