Sandra Anzalone finished her first day as Eden Schools Superintendent sitting with the board of education and listening to residents plea for the preservation of the programs that they value as the district wrestles with a $1.6 million gap in next year’s budget.
A series of speakers from a large number of residents and students present for the March 18 meeting called on the board to refrain from cutting programs, especially in music, art and athletics.
Some ideas were very specific such as that from Jr.-Sr. High Music Teacher Sarah Roberts, who explained the need for the Music Theory class to be reinstated reporting it is necessary for music-related students to enter college. She further offered a revenue stream to the board in the inventory of unused musical instruments in her department. She suggested they could be sold to other districts or perhaps even used in a rental program for district musicians.
Resident Rodney Pierce reflected on the 40 budgets he has witnessed and paid special note that 7 of the past 11 contained tax increases and all had ultimately passed. “The State says you can increase 2.9 percent but you can go beyond that,” said Pierce. He urged the board to have the courage to save programs.
Board President Steven Cerne appreciated Pierce’s history lesson but noted that filling the gap through the tax levy would raise the rate 15 to 16 percent in a budget voters would have to approve. “No one up here wants to make cuts to programs, but we have a problem,” Cerne said. He further clarified that the draft budget currently uses a large chunk of reserve funds to bring the gap down to $184,461, a process he believes could be repeated only one additional year.
Avenues to close the gap have taken on a variety of exploratory routes. Richard Schaefer, the district’s elementary principal, and up till that day, the Acting District Superintendent, presented preliminary results of savings available from various changes.
Chief among them was the potential from changing to a single bus run for all three district buildings. Schaefer has made inquiries with nearby districts who have, or who have studied were two who studied but decided to avoid the single run. For Gowanda, it was the disruption to class schedules that weighed most heavily while in Silver Creek the change would have reduced state aid. He noted that next door North Collins had enjoyed significant savings but that those came after not adjusting regular routes for a number of years.
Transportation Supervisor Rose Heckathorn gave more specifics on the current program which sees 30 drivers, operate 30 vehicles each day along with five attendants. A single run would require the district to hire 8 additional drivers and acquire a matching number of vehicles. A single run would reduce mileage each day by 366.91 miles and the reduced hours would find 17 of the current drivers ineligible for health insurance. For Heckathorn, the biggest stumbling block she saw was the need for additional busses. She pegged state reimbursement rates for vehicle purchases at 76.3 percent with the taxpayers picking up the balance. With the average cost of a 66-passenger bus at $106,000, a 16-20 seater, $44,000 and mini-vans $27,000-$30,000 it would prove difficult in a single year. She also reported that she is removing two vehicles from service this year due to condition and age. She reminded the board that state education law requires students in grades K-8 over two miles and grades 9-12 over three miles from school be transported. She added that state reimbursement covers students at least 1.5 miles out. As for the cost of additional busses, Heckathorn said that leasing arrangements are available and are state reimbursable. However, the leases would have to be approved by voters as are outright purchases.
Schaefer saw little savings from a single plan noting that the district regularly updates and changes its routes to maximize efficiency. He offered to conduct a “full-blown study” on the matter if the board wished.
Board member Colin Campbell said “We don’t need a full-blown study, only if it could save us some money.” Campbell added that he would like to see the implications it would create for the current drivers’ contract and suggested “Out sourcing some routes,” could be one avenue for review.
By consensus the board agreed to remove discussion of reducing elementary faculty by two citing the need in early education. However, it was also agreed that the board would entertain removing two positions at the Jr.-Sr. High to balance the draft budget. At Cerne’s suggestion the board authorized Schaefer to research savings from eliminating up to five positions at the Jr. Sr. High. The decision stemmed from Schaefer’s study which showed that 60 classes in each of two semesters had 12 or few students.
While not necessarily removing 5 full time instructors, the board kept open the possibility that the level could be reduced through a combination of percentage reductions in instructional hours.
Athletic Director Marisa Fallacaro offered up the JV sports program as her department’s contribution to sharing the pain. She pegged district savings at approximately $74,000. The plan would see modified sports remain for 7th and 8th grade and Varsity for grades 9-12. She did note that Eden would be alone in its league in not offering the JV level and that could put sports programs at a competitive disadvantage in the future. She also reported that the higher competitive nature to make teams would result in some current players not making teams next year.
President Cerne suggested looking into a 10 percent reduction in funding to extracurricular and non-mandated programs with the interested parties raising the balance needed. Such a plan drew concern from Fallacaro who’s athletic programs would need to raise $41,000 for all teams. Campbell quickly divided the number of teams in the district and said it would amount to $500 each to be raised. Fallacaro offered to look into it but said she was uncomfortable stating, “We are the only school around with nine state titles, I can’t punish students for making it to state.”
Board member Barbara Henry sought clarification if “non-mandated” could entail additional cuts to programs in the music and art departments. Cerne replied he would like to see all the numbers.
The board further requested more comprehensive reviews if the Gifted and Talented program could move at least partially into the mainstream class structure and the actual staffing requirements for school librarians. Schaefer also reported that Buildings and Grounds found $6,483 in savings by continuing the energy savings program and reducing one cleaning position by 6 hours per week.
On a positive note, the board authorized amending the current budget to reflect an increase in revenue this year of $9,997.91. It also approved the reduction of one hour each for two bus driver positions.
The board will hold a public budget discussion on Saturday, March 23 at 9 a.m. in the Jr.-Sr. High Auditorium to review further.