Facing a tax-cap-inspired $2.9 million budget shortfall, the Hendrick Hudson School District plans to dismiss as many as 33 employees—half of them teachers—administration officials said Wednesday.
The projected layoffs, which district officials described as emotionally wrenching but necessary to meet a state-imposed cap on tax increases, were presented to a standing-room turnout in the high school’s cafeteria. Some 200 district residents, parents and teachers filled the cavernous facility, with a number of them imploring the school board to find a way to reverse the cuts.
“It would be a crime,” said one man, drawing enthusiastic applause, “to not do everything literally possible to keep these teachers aboard.”
Schools Superintendent Daniel McCann outlined two groups of cuts, the larger of which would save $2.19 million but cost the jobs of 11 teachers, a dozen teacher aides and three custodians.
The second group would cut six teachers and an administrator to save $767,685. But those positions could be spared, officials said, through negotiations with the teachers union.
If the teachers, who have been working without a contract since last June, took a zero percent increase in the first year of any newly ratified pact, the district would save some $885,000, or more than enough to reinstate the smaller group of cuts.
For Hendrick Hudson, the layoffs mark the fifth straight year of staff reductions. They also follow a stinging December rebuke by district voters of a $25 million bond proposal. Like school districts statewide, Hen Hud is preparing its 2012-13 budget under a new state law that limits increases in the tax levy to 2 percent of the previous year’s.
A district may present a budget that calls for increases exceeding the cap. But it must declare that fact and the budget must be approved by 60 percent of the voters, not a simple majority. A community survey taken by the district in the wake of December’s bond defeat found 51 percent of residents opposed to any budget that exceeded the cap.
While the tax cap, championed by then-newly elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo and enacted last June by the State Legislature, drew criticism from both board and administration officials, only Trustee Carson Jacobs openly talked about defying it. He generated applause from the audience but insufficient support from fellow school board members when he suggested an override. After the meeting, other board members, including President Marion Walsh, said they would not join any effort to exceed the cap’s limit, citing the likelihood that voters would reject such a move.
Officials have proposed a so-called “rollover” budget of $73.39 million, which essentially adds no new spending despite an increase in dollar outlay of more than 5 percent. To keep the tax levy under the new 2 percent cap, spending must be cut by $2.79 million. In addition, the district included $175,000 as a hedge against tax certioraris and new staff.
Teachers and their supporters wore blue T-shirts emblazoned with the letters HHEA, for the Hendrick Hudson Education Association, the teachers’ bargaining unit.
Some parents described the impact on their children. Recalling a conversation with her daughter, a kindergartener at Frank G. Lindsey, Marie Terezakis of Croton on Hudson said, “It’s heartbreaking for me to have to explain to her why her teacher may not be back next year.”
Tessa C. Rossi of Cortlandt Manor said, “I have two kids at Frank G. Lindsey, and they love that school and they love their teachers. They were at school Friday [when teachers learned of the layoffs] and they came home and cried. What kind of message are we saying to our children that we want to build big buildings but we’re not going to have the people left to staff them?”
When Rossi graduated from Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School in 1986, she noted, students had been earning honors in the same venerable East Side schoolhouse for almost 80 years. “It wasn’t about the building,” she said. “It was about the people and the heart.”