40 positions will be cut in the Riverhead School District

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead staffers are finding out today if positions will be intact next year.

About 40 Riverhead School District employees will be losing their positions after this school year — including 15 teachers and four administrators — due to an expected massive decrease in state and federal aid and an increase in personnel costs and other operating expenses, the News-Review learned Thursday.

“We’re losing clerical, maintenance positions, a couple of bus drivers; it’s across the board,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said in an interview. “We’ve tried to be as fair and equitable as possible while making sure we’re preserving areas that are most important for running the district. This is a lean budget.”

District employees learned Friday whether or not their positions will remain intact, Ms. Carney said.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to restore a number of positions based on retirements,” she said. “These are people that have families; that have homes and children. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Administrators plan to meet with the local teachers’ union next week to discuss retirement incentives for older teachers, which would allow for those positions to be filled by newer teachers who earn less money, making up the cost of the package. Teachers were offered $25,000 retirement packages last year.

Ms. Carney and all her assistant superintendent have taken pay freezes for next year, she said.

The superintendent’s proposed 2011-2012 budget calls for a 1.96 spending increase, 94 percent of which she said accounts for higher contributions to retirement funds. “It’s more like a zero increase,” she said.

“Things are bad,” said Barbara Barosa, the president of the district’s teachers’ union, called the Riverhead Central Faculty Association. “We have lost 35 teaching positions over the last three years and with an additional 15 teachers getting layoff slips we’ll be down over 50 teachers in four years.”

She directed most of the blame on the state, rather than the administrators in Riverhead, but noted she would not have full details of the layoffs plan until Friday, when teachers slated to lose their jobs would be meeting individually with their principals.

“I think taxpayers and community members need to be made aware that their kids are getting less services because the state has declined to fund education in the way that it should appropriately be funded,” she said. “If the state takes away your aid and says you have to supply the same services as before [through mandates], well then it hurts the taxpayers and it hurts the community.”

Aside from salaries and pension benefits, she pointed to the cost of fuel, electricity, textbooks and other supplies that “aren’t stagnant. Yet we’re getting cut and we’re told looming in front of us is this 2 percent tax cap.”

Ms. Carney said she’s especially concerned about the following year’s budget, considering Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2 percent cap.

She said a lot has to do with how that cap ends up being structured, whether or not communities would be able to override the cap by vote and whether such a move would be accompanied with state mandate reform or other forms of cost relief for local districts.

“We’re hopeful there will be some exemption to the cap,” Ms. Carney said. “It’s just about how it’s structured.”

Even if the district gets less of a cut from state aid than is expected — under the governor’s budget Riverhead would lose about $2.9 million, a 16 percent decrease from last year ­— she said most likely the positions being cut tomorrow will not be restored, as the district has the 2012-2013 budget to keep in mind.

The superintendent said there are no plans for drastic cuts in extracurricular activities for 2011-2012.

“We’ve tried to keep programs in place,” she said. “The only thing we’ve done with sports, as with every area, we’ve cut supplies and equipment, conferences, workshops. All of those things. We did consolidate some of the middle school teams from separate seventh and eight-grade teams to just one team.

“I’m just a real believer in extracurricular activities for kids. But each year is going to be a challenge.”

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