Passing school budgets has never been easy.
This year’s has been especially challenging, as districts have confronted the state-imposed tax cap, on-going certioraris from local businesses, unfunded mandates, reduced state aid in many cases, and Race to the Top requirements. As a result, the upcoming school budget vote on Tuesday represents a significant shift that will likely affect district funding choices for the foreseeable future.
“School districts are under more pressure than ever before to do more with less,” said Dr. Ralph Napolitano, superintendent of the Yorktown school district.
Even affluent communities, which would never have questioned class size, curriculum or programming enhancements, had placed those under consideration for discussion during the budget process.
For many districts, squeaking in under the tax cap without raising class size or cutting program has been possible because of teacher retirements or, in districts with enrollment declines, staff cuts.
“Without retirements, we couldn’t have done it,” said Dr. Edward Fuhrman, superintendent of the Croton-Harmon school district. Even so, during the budget process, “we’ve talked about the modified sports program and having slightly larger class size than what we’d like.”
The district has made cuts in physical education teaching positions, the number of people who provide security at school events, and frozen spending on technology. . The board of education cut $ 10,000 from its own budget, which represents 50 percent of their total allocation.
“It’s a tough budget,” said Dr. Fuhrman. “My real fear is that we will see major program cuts later.”
In Yorktown, there won’t be replacements for teachers who retire. Declining school enrollment at the elementary level, said Dr. Napolitano, means that the district can “right size” allocation of staff and resources.
Careful planning during the past three years, when White Plains reduced its workforce by 10 percent, meant that for the 2012-2013 budget the district was able to maintain class size and even add three elementary school teachers.
Even so, the district will no longer run the pre-K program, which was reduced by 50 percent last year. Outside providers will offer the program in some district school buildings.
“It’s economics,” said White Plains school superintendent, Dr. Christopher Clouet. “In response to the last several years of economic restriction, we’re supporting it logistically, but not as a district.”
While many districts have managed to avert program cuts this year, there remain concerns about how schools will maintain their distinctive programs in the not-so-distant future.
“Moving forward, if we don’t make changes, how are we going to fund education?”, said Dr. Napolitano. “We can’t continue to support education on the backs of taxpayers. If we’re faced by the same challenges, eventually there’ll be nothing we can cu