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School issues pink slips as budget gap looms

2013-02-12T16:30:00Z 2013-02-13T09:21:42Z School issues pink slips as budget gap loomsOMAR RICARDO AQUIJE - Glens Falls Post-Star

At least a dozen Schuylerville school employees learned Tuesday that they could be laid off by July through reductions to close a budget gap of up to $1 million.

Most of the pink slips were for teachers, but it’s possible the district will not lay off every employee who received a notice, officials said.

Still, the notices are required under the district’s labor contracts, so employees know months ahead of time that their positions could be eliminated. Handing out the notices gives the district the option to cut those jobs if that is needed to balance the budget.

The procedure is typical when school districts have to cut jobs, and other districts are expected to do the same over the next month as 2013-14 budgets are created.

Schuylerville, like school districts across the state, is faced with a lack of revenue to cover increases in expenses such as pensions and health insurance.

As a result, the district has to shave anywhere from $650,000 to $1 million, officials said.

“We are going to try to look everywhere,” said Wendy Morris, Schuylerville’s business manager.

Morris said, however, most of the cuts will probably come from eliminating positions.

Schuylerville has 281 employees, including 138 teachers. A year ago, the district axed 17 positions from the 2012-13 budget.

The district has cut more than $1.2 million over the past three years, Morris said.

In Whitehall, the district in January cut six jobs and reduced the hours of three teaching positions — one each in science, social studies and music. Other cuts, and elimination of health insurance for four nonteaching positions, have raised the savings to $460,000 in the 2013-14 budget.

Before the cuts were made, the district was looking at a 14.9 percent tax levy increase, but that is down to 5.5 percent now. The state aid proposed for Whitehall should be enough to reduce the levy under the tax cap of 2.2 percent, said Superintendent James Watson.

Watson said the budget is still being scrutinized, but he doesn’t expect more job cuts.

He said no services for students have been eliminated, although the cuts could lead to larger class sizes.

“It’s really difficult because we have made so many difficult cuts in the last couple of years,” Watson said. “In a small rural school, there’s little left without cutting programs.”

Other local school districts expect to send out pink slips in the next few weeks.

Paul Jenkins, superintendent of the Glens Falls City School District, said his district has to close a $1 million budget gap. He said no decisions have been made so far on cuts to jobs and programs, expenses that the school board will look at in March.

“Right now, as we see it, if our revenues don’t equal our expenses, then we cannot balance our budget, which means we have to make changes in expenses somewhere,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said school districts have already trimmed budgets over the last few years, which makes it harder to cut more.

“I think for every school district, this is going to be a very difficult discussion,” Jenkins said. “Nobody wants to eliminate programs. Nobody wants to see changes in staffing.”

Michael Patton, superintendent of South Glens Falls, said his district has yet to send out pink slips. But reductions will be determined in the coming weeks to address a $1.2 million budget gap. That gap exists despite the use in the district budget of more than $2 million in reserves and $1.2 million from the fund balance.

Last year, the district cut 29 positions, Patton said.

“We are hoping the cuts won’t go as deep this year,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much left. We are down to the bare bones at this point.”

At Hudson Falls, the district has issued pink slips in each of the last few years, but ended up able to create budgets without layoffs. The outcome could be the same again this year, said Superintendent Mark Doody.

“Obviously, we’d like to avoid it if we can,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget raises education funding by 4 percent. But some area districts expect cuts in state aid.

School leaders are also waiting to learn more about grants and other potential money for education in Cuomo’s budget. In addition, they are also keeping an eye on a Cuomo proposal that places a cap on the amount districts have to contribute for pensions next year.

Doody said these are significant unknowns that could affect the district’s budget.

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