Carney: More faculty cuts coming next school year in Riverhead

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Superintendent Nancy Carney at Tuesday night's budget presentation.

District-wide cuts to faculty and staff through attrition and downsizing, eight-period school days, and shared bus runs.

Those are some ways the Riverhead School District plans to manage its 2012-13 budget to keep tax hikes below the state-mandated 2 percent cap, it was revealed this week.

To save the district money, cuts to faculty will have to be made, according to a presentation Superintendent Nancy Carney made before the school board Tuesday night.

“I think there’s nothing more difficult for any of us here [than] having to let people go who do very important work for the district,” she said. “But as you’re aware, these are the times that we’re in, and these are the difficult decisions that we have to make.”

The meeting at Riverhead High School was the first of seven scheduled to offer a preliminary look at the 2012-13 budget and debt service. Ms. Carney said the school will have to cut approximately $3.2 million from its total budget to stay within state guidelines.

Riverhead Middle School days will be the same length as this year but will have eight instead of nine periods. The school will also share busing with Pulaski Street School to save money and the high school’s Star Academy will be restructured.

“We are moving forward … and confident for next year that we are keeping the integrity of our programs in place, as painful and difficult as this is,” Ms. Carney said.

The 2 percent tax increase cap, which became New York State law in 2011 and limits the amount the district can collect from taxpayers, can be exceeded with the approval of 60 percent of voters and based on certain contractual increases, although Ms. Carney said the district will not go that route. Capital improvements, such as last year’s voter-approved $78.3 million school bond for infrastructure upgrades, are exempt from the tax-levy cap.

The proposed budget cuts take into account rising health care costs, general administration expenses, contributions to employee and teacher retirement funds and the district’s existing debt service, Ms. Carney said.

The school district’s “general support” category, which covers administrative costs, legal fees, testing costs and other expenses, will drop by about 5 percent, she said, but funds for the Board of Education, meetings, associations and clerk services will increase by more than 28 percent, largely because of printing costs for a new balloting system that will be paid for in next year’s budget. Riverhead school board members do not receive a salary.

Savings in the general support area will come from the now-eliminated MTA payroll tax, which will save the district $217,350.

Costs for employee and teacher benefits are expected to increase, Ms. Carney said. Contributions for employees’ retirement funds are expected to rise by about 27 percent, while contributions for teachers’ may rise by about 14.5 percent, according to data provided by the district.

Teachers and other staff members will be notified in the coming weeks if their positions will be affected, she added.

Ms. Carney said the district will also have to cut nearly $13.5 million from the tax levy between now and the 2015-16 school year to stay under the cap in the future. Ms. Carney said cutting staff will also, unfortunately, cause unemployment costs to rise, which the district has budgeted for.

Overall, contractually obligated benefit costs will rise by nearly 12 percent.

The school’s existing debt is expected to drop this upcoming school year, according to the data. Payments for an improvement bond approved in 1999 have lessened greatly in recent years, and library debt will also fall slightly. The capital improvement bond approved last year will begin to be paid under the 2013-14 school budget.

At recent school board meetings, parents and students have urged the board not to cut specific programs, such as art education, Latin classes or the crew team. Ms. Carney and school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse had said it was still too early in the process of analyzing school programs to know which would be cut, though the two said they would try to make cuts across the board instead of eliminating whole programs while sparing others.

The school board will discuss school programs such as athletics and art at its next public special budget meeting Feb. 28. The district will hold six more meetings discussing the school budget. The budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and will use the same four polling places used in the 2011 bond vote, because school officials said more voters turned out under that plan than in the previous year.

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Upcoming budget meetings:
Feb. 18: Facilities, Security and Transportation.
Feb. 28: “Regular day” school budget
March 6: Special education, Pupil personnel services, and special education.
March 13: Revenues and projected tax levy.
March 27: Budget review and revision.
April 17: Board of Education votes to approve proposed budget.
May 15: Budget vote.