Cutting 15 full-time teaching positions, six support staff members and three sports teams are some of the ways the Valley Stream Central High School District is proposing to slash about $2.5 million from its budget in order to stay within the state tax levy cap.
The Board of Education held its monthly committee meeting on Feb. 5 to discuss the 2013-14 budget, and district administrators laid out a proposal to make the necessary cuts.
New York state school districts are beginning the second budget cycle under the tax cap, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in June 2011 and which took effect last January. A school board has the option of adopting a budget that exceeds the district’s cap, but it must be approved by a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters — a route the board does not plan to take.
Dr. Wayne Loper, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, said that keeping all programs and services intact next year would mean a budget of nearly $109 million and a tax levy increase of 6.31 percent. Factoring in Cuomo’s proposed state aid figures, which were released last month, Loper has calculated that the district’s maximum allowable tax levy is 3.06 percent. The proposed spending plan totals $106.17 million.
Originally, Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich was anticipating cuts totaling around $2.65 million, but the district would likely be able to save some programs through other savings, specifically in the area of transportation. Board members agreed to reduce transportation costs by changing the way some private-school students get to class. About 90 students who attend Chaminade High School, Crescent School and Sacred Heart Academy would be provided with MetroCards for MTA transportation instead of a yellow bus, which would save the district approximately $120,000, Loper said.
According to Heidenreich, the MTA now has new routing and scheduling that allows the three schools to meet its criteria for public transportation. The district has used MTA transportation for years, and is providing MetroCards to 57 non-public-school students this year.
Heidenreich said that Valley Stream students who attend non-public schools are not being denied any opportunities with this option, which would not be the case for district students if cuts had to be made elsewhere. He added that if MetroCards were not provided to students who attend these three schools, the middle school sports programs would be on the chopping block.
“Do we want to have middle-school sports or do we want to provide yellow bus transportation to non-public-school children?” Heidenreich said. “I choose middle-school sports.”
Dr. Tracey Nekulak, assistant superintendent for personnel and administration, outlined proposed cuts to the district’s teaching staff. In addition to 15 full-time positions, 4.8 teacher’s assistant positions were slashed in the proposal. Nekulak said that the cuts would save approximately $1.8 million. Six part-time teachers, four custodians, one laborer and one clerical position are also on the chopping block.
“The rules of the game have changed dramatically in terms of how schools create budgets,” Heidenreich said. “We now basically have a cap, and we have to figure out what we can afford within that cap, and then there’s a conversation about which programs add the most value to support our students — keeping in mind that everything we have adds value to students, otherwise we would not have it.”
Three varsity sports teams — bowling, golf and rifle — would be cut under the proposed plan. Heidenreich said that these teams are the most expensive to run because the district does not have facilities, like a golf course or bowling alley, of its own, and the rifle range in the basement of Memorial Junior High School is expensive to maintain. “I have to put forward what I think serves the largest number of kids,” he said.
Heidenreich and his staff will make further recommendations on which programs or positions could be kept in the budget at the March 5 committee meeting. Residents will vote on the spending plan on May 21.