Irvington Superintendent’s Budget Nips and Tucks

Irvington Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Roelle presented his proposed school budget for the 2012-2013 school year to the Board of Education on February 7th, getting an early jump on the budget process and giving the Board plenty of time to take his suggestions under advisement and come up with the final budget proposal that will go before voters in May.
Mindful of the 2% tax levy cap, Dr. Roelle did his best to craft a budget that would put Irvington on the best footing moving forward. “We think that the budget that we presented here, if the Board adopted it, puts the Board in good position for developing new programs for next year, and facing new kinds of issues next year.” The proposal calls for a total budget of $51,075,000, which would be an increase of $750,108, or 1.49%.

Even with the increase, the proposal is not without some casualties, with a total of 10.6 positions being cut from the district. “There was just no way to present a budget that would not result in a loss of jobs and still come in under the tax cap,” explained Roelle.

When asked how the Board reacted to Dr. Roelle’s proposal, Board Member Robyne Camp responded, “I think Dr. Roelle made an excellent presentation. The Board didn’t agree with every suggestion, but I think the Superintendent’s budget was well received.”

One of the recommendations that Camp suggested may be revisited is the elimination of a guidance counselor at the high school level. But there is another recommendation that stands out in the budget. “The other thing I’m sure will ultimately come up for discussion is whether or not we should hire a Curriculum Administrator,” says Camp. “Money has been set aside for that; there’s a great deal of community interest in hiring such a person, but I’m sure that will be a subject of discussion.”

Roelle’s budget calls for the hiring of an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Personnel at a total cost to the district (including benefits) of $180,000. This is the same position that was eliminated just last year. “In my judgment, that is a very, very valuable position at any time for a school district,” says Dr. Roelle, “Given the advancement of the Common Core standards and the new principal and teacher evaluation systems, [the position is important] to really propel the school district forward in a way… where we can really address student achievement in a proactive manner.”

Roelle refers to the government-mandated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) evaluations for teachers and principals. In the coming year, APPR will cost the district $39,000 to implement and another $15,000 to monitor – costs the district has no choice but to absorb. They are only the latest in a series of unfunded mandates being handed down from Washington D.C. and Albany that contribute to the budgetary squeeze. “New York State Public Schools are laden with mandates from both the state and the federal government,” explains Roelle. “Then our own contracts that we negotiate become mandates in their own rights.”

In Roelle’s budget, contractually-mandated salary increases represent the largest single increase, totaling $476,575. Other major budget increases include a retirement system increase of $211,025, $232,605 in special education tuitions for private school placement, and $148,000 to hire 2 new staff members in special education, and an additional part-time person for the ESL program. Another additional expense was the absorption into the budget of some positions that had been previously funded through Federal funds, which have now expired.

In an effort to minimize the impact of all of these additions on the tax levy, Dr. Roelle recommends the District dip into the “rainy day” Emergency Fund Balance for $400,000. Though he adds in the proposal, “The administration notes that the District must use restraint in using the fund balance as a revenue source as these funds represent one-time revenue that is supporting recurring expenses.”

With the rising costs for salary, retirement, and health insurance (an increase of $53,850 in the proposed budget) continuing into perpetuity, more and more state and federally-mandated expenses hitting the district, and the 2% tax levy cap restricting the amount of revenue the district can raise, Camp worries how much more nipping and tucking the budget can take before it collapses. “My guess is that something systemic is going to have to change because of the way the teachers’ contract is constructed,” she says. “The increases to teachers every year are more than the 2% tax cap.”

Roelle echoes these sentiments. “The budget that’s before the Board of Education is really a lean budget,” he says. “We didn’t start with many opportunities in this budget cycle to reduce items that will not have either a direct or indirect impact on programs. We tried to minimize the negative impact of those programs, but how many more times can you do that in future years?”

It is a difficult dilemma that faces the Board of Education, one that does not have any easy answers. However, Roelle acknowledges one area that looms as a possible step in the future. “The Board does have discretion to increase class size, that’s probably the big-ticket item,” he says “I wouldn’t be in favor of doing that any further than we’ve already recommended, but I suppose if you were in a crisis, that would be an area where the Board would have far more discretion.”

The next public Board of Education meetings are February 28 and March 6 in the Irvington High School Campus Presentation Room. The budget is scheduled to be adopted by the Board of Education in April.

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