Margaretville district grapples with budget

By Pauline Liu
The Margaretville Central School Board of Education plans to ask district voters to approve a 2.04 percent tax-levy limit for the 2012-2013 school year. 

According to MCS Superintendent Tony Albanese, each school district has a different tax-levy limit based on a formula from the Office of the State Comptroller. For MCS, that percentage is 2.04.  The board made its decision at a budget workshop last Tuesday and school officials have since notified the state of their plans. 

Now that the board members have agreed on what the tax-levy limit should be, they will need to make budget cuts to reach that goal.

If nothing is done, the school district would be stuck with a tax levy increase of 4.07 percent. In order to lower the tax-levy increase to 2.04 percent, they would need to trim the projected $10.3 million budget by $134, 209. 

The situation is a far cry from last year, when the board was able to present school-district voters with a zero percent tax levy increase for the 2011-2012 budget. According to Superintendent Albanese, the problem involves not just the loss of state funding, but also the loss of federal funds, which in previous years were used to offset the shortage of state aid. The superintendent made his presentation before the board and a small audience that included a few teachers. 

Another major expense that the MCS administration faced was the cost of the flood clean up, after Tropical Storm Irene. Floodwaters filled the school’s basement, athletic field and bus garage last year.  “What we couldn’t offset this year was the flood,” said Superintendent Albanese. “In that regard, I’m very happy that we could use the fund balance,” he added.  District Treasurer Karen Dietrich said if the district didn’t have the money, it would have had to borrow it. “We have either spent or set aside $748, 000 in flood expenses,” said Dietrich.  The current fund balance is over $1 million.

To cut about $90,000 from the projected budget, one option that was discussed involved reducing the size of an elementary class from two sections to one section, where the total number of students is 24 or less. The options include kindergarten, first grade and fifty grade for next year. Albanese explained there’s been no decision about the extra teaching position. He explained that the position could be absorbed through retirement or result in a lay-off.

Superintendent Albanese is also recommending one section for next year’s sixth grade. He said that combining the two sixty-grade classes would not save money. “However, our positive experience in moving sixth grade (upstairs) to the Middle School this year has resulted in a very positive outcome for our students,” he said. 

The superintendent pointed out the Race to the Top program, which is federally mandated, is underfunded. “Race to the Top is an underfunded mandate that costs us a lot more to attend workshops and get qualified for what we need to do,” he said. “We’re waiting for an announcement that’s going to help us with these underfunded mandates.” As required under the program, the teachers and administration have selected a new teacher and principal evaluation system or rubric. They will be using the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Rubric. 

Among the unknowns with the new budget are the costs of a new teachers’ contract and how much state aid MCS will receive. Teachers have been working without a contract since July 1.  Rather than hire a new full-time social studies teacher, Bill Lonecke, has returned on a part-time basis, after retiring last year. “We are working together towards a settlement of the teachers’ contract,” said Albanese. “The support staff contract will expire June 2012 and talks will begin soon,” he added. 
District Treasurer Dietrich elaborated on the challenges of putting together the 2012-’13 budget.

“We’ve developed a budget without contract information and without firm state aid information,” said Dietrich. “They could reinstate some state aid, but it’s up in the air. We have to notify the state by Thursday, if we’re going to stay within the 2.04 (percent) without all of the information. There is no way to gauge what a person’s tax is going to do, since there are eight township in three counties,” she added.

The meeting was the board’s fifth budget workshop. Another one is scheduled on Wednesday, March 21 at 6 p.m. The board of education will be meeting to adopt a budget on Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m.