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Peekskill Schools Look for Creative Ways to Close $2M Budget Gap

Transportaion, overtime and staffing are some of the areas district officials are focusing on as they look for cuts in next year's budget.

Reductions in transportation, the usage of substitute teachers and staff overtime are some the things Peekskill school officials are reviewing as ways to bridge the $2 million budget gap the district faces next year.

Peekskill schools received some good news last month when Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocated an additional $1.4 million, or 4.7 percent more, in state aid to the district. But that still isn't enough to help the district as it tries to find ways to control costs while staying within the state's 2 percent property tax increase cap.

Even with the increase, the district is still short about $3.6 million in aid when the Gap Elimination Adjustment is factored in. The GAP Elimination Adjustment is a formula that was instituted in school aid to help close the state’s budget gap.

On Jan. 4, the district implemented a spending freezing which they estimate will save about $200,000. 

"Again, we're not going to know specifically [how much the freeze will save] until the end of the year," Jim Willis, superintendent of schools, said during Tuesday's board meeting.

Departments heads are currently going through a line by line review of the budget to see areas where additional savings can be found.

Willis said the district is also studying the costs associated with the opening of the Uriah Hill school and leasing space out in the building, class sizes, student and staff scheduling, distance learning and the impact of the Assumption Schools' closing.

The district will also look at staffing adjustments that can be made.

"I didn't go into detailed staffing because I don't want anyone panicking if I say 'if we do this, it's going to cut these jobs or if we do this it's going to save them," Willis said. "It's too early yet and i don't want to identify anything…we'll talk about some of this in executive session because it deals with staffing."

In terms of substituting teachers, Willis said the district spends about $240,000 on that line item alone.

"We want to take a close look at why we are using these subs, what reason, where are they and what can we do differently to reduce those subs and that shouldn't have an impact on the children and programs," Willis said. "I'm trying to find ways where we can be more efficient in what we are doing and not impact the kids."

Willis said he also tried to eliminate overtime is used this year, but there have still been about $200,000 in costs for that line.

"Some of it makes sense because we had to do snow removal and those kind of things," Willis said. "Well, if you really want to get creative you say fine, if you're going to remove snow and you took two hours on that, then come in two hours later on Friday."

Willis said there is still the matter of looking at individual contracts and making sure it's doable. In some instances, overtime is counted on daily basis, and spreading out hours over the course of the week wouldn't make a difference, he said.

Transportation is another issue that is being looked into. Willis said the bids have opened for new transportation contracts and there could be some saving there. 

Willis said the district spends about $1.3 million in busing general education students and $1.9 million in special education busing. 

"Special education, you can't do anything about because it's required," Willis said. "But if you do away with the busing we have for our general ed kids, are we saving $1.3 million then? No…we get about 57 percent transportation aid."

The district also plans to conduct an audit of its special education program.

Willis also there are no plans to increase staffing for security.

Board President Joseph Urbanowicz and Trustee Lisa Aspinall-Kellawon said the administration needed to find a way to include an additional security officer in each of the district's elementary schools in the next budget draft.

Gregory Sullivan, assistant superintendent for business and administrative services, said he woud include estimates for those security positions during his next budget presentation.

Willis said school administrators throughout the state are currently pushing legislation to allow district's to hire school resource officers through their nearest BOCES. That would allow district's to receive additional aid for the position.

Willis said area superintendents are also creating template letters for residents to send to their state legislators in response to the financial hurdles districts are facing. He said would leave those letters on the district's Web site for people to easily find and send off.

"We are going to be encourage the public to actually contact their legislators and let them know that the Gap Elimination Adjustment, the unfunded mandates, the APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review], the 2 percent tax cap is making their districts go broke," Willis said.

sayitsnotsojack February 07, 2013 at 11:52 PM
There is nothing wrong with having parents take up the load for getting kids to school, the rest of us taxpayers have been bled dry with the outrageous school taxes. Start with a pay reduction across the board starting with the high and mighty Superintendent and then the holier than thou teachers. Maybe get them to work for a full year like the rest of us.
joshua tanner February 08, 2013 at 02:05 AM
Peekskill also used to make due with a superintendent without all the high priced assistant superintendents. Judith Johnson showed up and all these 200k + assistants were needed to do the work .
john basic February 08, 2013 at 03:41 AM
I agree with Joshua. Cut the top heavy salaries. Let the (1) superintendent do a full days work and earn their salary.
Eve February 08, 2013 at 11:43 AM
I agree! $260,000 plus benefits is an unbelievably high amount of money! That is almost 5 times the amount of the median household income at $57,000 a year and he is just one person! Even when Willis was in Utica, he only made $145,000 with a school district triple size of Peekskill according to a google search. Google
sayitsnotsojack February 08, 2013 at 04:14 PM
If you want to really get your bile up, look at the following http://seethroughny.net/index.php?cID=169 you will really see the waste and how misspent your money is.

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