With a week remaining before the scheduled adoption of a budget for the 2012-13 school year, a Peekskill school official told the Board of Education Tuesday night that the projected gap between revenue and expenses had grown to about $731,000.
The increase from the previous week’s gap of $540,000, was driven primarily by a reduction in state aid for high-cost students under a complex formula, Gregory Sullivan, assistant superintendent for business, told the board.
The district plans to close the gap primarily through elimination of 23 staff positions and tapping reserve funds. Officials are looking to technology to help them educate students with fewer classroom teachers, possibly with more students in a class.
With the aid of a consultant, the board examined the consequences of various ways of addressing budget gaps over the next five years. District officials also criticized the allocation of state aid, saying that low-wealth districts such as Peekskill were shortchanged compared with their wealthier neighbors.
Charles A. Winters of West Hurley, NY, a consultant on school finance and planning, introduced his presentation of a five-year financial projection by noting that federal stimulus money no longer was offsetting major cuts made in state aid a couple of years ago. While Peekskill, with its reserve funds, is in better shape than some districts, it cannot indefinitely use these reserves to close budget gaps, he said.
Emphasizing that his presentation was an illustration, not an actual budget, Winters said the overall goal of his model was to manage the bottom line via various scenarios. For instance, the elimination of 23 positions – through a combination of attrition, not filling vacant jobs, replacing retirees with lower-salaried newcomers and, if need be, layoffs – will save $1.355 million; that same amount could also be saved by using more of the reserve funds and eliminating fewer jobs, he said.
The model shows the reserve funds – expected to be about $16 million when the current school year ends June 30 – leveling off around $9 million in three years if accompanied by an additional reduction of nine or 10 positions in each of those years. After a reduction of approximately 50 positions during the past few years the district currently has a staff of about 400. The planned and projected reductions, also totaling about 50, would reduce the current staff by some 12.5 percent.
Superintendent of Schools James Willis repeated his earlier contention that Peekskill’s budget crunch is driven by a shortfall of state aid. He criticized a “disproportionate distribution of wealth,” especially to small-city and less wealthy districts, noting that Peekskill’s overall aid increase was 2.5 percent while some wealthier districts in Westchester County received 5 percent more. He planned to contact the state Education Department Wednesday regarding the discrepancy.
Winters echoed Willis’ plaints, expressed concern about the lack of protest by the districts receiving smaller increases and questioned whether Albany politicians had the will to say that such high-need, low-wealth districts as Peekskill, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie should receive the 5 percent increases while their wealthier neighbors received lower percentages.
“We need to make some noise – a lot. If we don’t cry, we don’t eat,” said board member Marcela Bobe, citing a maxim she learned while growing up.
On the positive side, Willis cited savings from the spending freeze in place through June 30 and said savings were expected from a new busing contract that includes billing parameters more favorable to the district than those in the current contract.
The board will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Administration Center to continue work on the budget.