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Hamburg School Board weighs its options of balancing the district budget

HAMBURG — The question of how much to cut was the quandary facing Hamburg School District officials, as they explored various fiscal options during the March 18 community budget forum.

Some board members even suggested a scenario of presenting to voters a 2014 –2015 fiscal budget that is over the tax levy limit, thus requiring a super-majority voter approval of at least 60 percent.

Director of Administrative Services Barbara Sporyz outlined non-mandated program areas that district officials are looking into regarding possible cuts, reminding those in attendance that such areas are simply being examined in a hypothetical and not definite manner.

Supporters of Hamburg’s High School Finance Academy, as well as French Foreign Language Program, each spoke against cuts proposed to those areas, as savings had been reported by Sporyz as being represented in $20,000 for the finance academy, with a 0.2 full time-equivalent teacher and $60,000 from the hypothetical elimination of French 4A, 4 and 5, with one FTE teacher at the high school.

District foreign language teacher Sheri Green said that eliminating the French language option at Hamburg High School would have an adverse trickle-down effect for students.

“To take away electives and upper-level courses would destroy everything we’ve worked to build,” Green said, noting the various field trips and valued curriculum offered to participating students. “Why would a middle school student take French if they knew they couldn’t continue to take it in high school?”

Green and another district foreign language teacher said that, although it is not preferred, they and other faculty would work to accommodate larger class sizes in three sections, if it meant maintaining existing course options.

Other non-mandated areas that district officials explored as possibilities of cutting or tweaking included: kindergarten, representing a hypothetical savings of $780,000, affecting 13 teachers and 308 students with a loss of early intervention programs; varsity, junior varsity and modified sports – $524,846 – currently with 655 varsity athletes, 486 modified athletes and 263 JV athletes; half-day kindergarten, $390,000, affecting 6.5 elementary teachers and 308 students; changing classroom size guidelines at the elementary level – $240,000 – with dictating kindergarten – second grades at 22 students or fewer and grades three - five at 28 or fewer; one-day salary for teacher furlough – $165,000 – with staff losing one day’s pay, a provision that would require union approval; extracurricular clubs, $145,000, all grades with up to 600 students; Advanced Placement courses at Hamburg High School – $144,000- affecting 155 students from course areas of biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, calculus and European studies, with 1.2 FTE science teachers, one FTE math teacher and 0.2 FTE social studies instructor; assistant superintendent for human resources, a position previously held by District Superintendent Richard Jetter that held a salary of $121,300, with the possibility of reallocating these funds to the curriculum director and restructuring the central office and district counselors – $90,000 – affecting one FTE at the high school and 0.5 FTE at the middle school, with additional pupils possibly assigned to other counselors.

Other areas reviewed were: teacher aides, with hypothetical elimination of three saving $75,000; academic intervention services; one FTE high school, saving $60,000; Learning Center, one FTE at high school, $60,000; library media center, one FTE in district, $60,000; health, music and technology program areas, each presenting a savings of $60,000, with music encompassing a fourth grade band section; transportation, with two late bus run cycles’ equating to $58,000; two high school hall monitors, $50,000; Saint Bernadette’s bus run, $47,000; senior clerk-typist position at Hamburg administration building, $38,000; district conferences, $26,000; middle school music program, $24,000; health sciences at the high school, $24,000; district counselors’ summer days, $20,000; district field trips, $20,000; private school bus passes, $20,000, affecting 20 students; computer aides’ summer hours reductions, $3,800 and board of education’s implementing paperless policy, $2,100.

It was reported that the projected 2014 – 2015 district budget has expenditures of $63,793,125, with a current budget gap of $2,238,074 facing Hamburg.

The allowable tax levy limit is $34,938,190, with a maximum increase of 4.23 percent. Sporyz stressed the importance of Hamburg’s passing its proposed budget, outlining difficult fiscal scenarios that would ensue if a contingency budget is adopted.

Such a circumstance would include zero levy growth from the 2013 – 2014 budget, to go along with $3.6 million that would need to be cut from program areas of the projected 2014 – 2015 fiscal plan.

“It’s a significant loss,” Sporyz said, about a contingency budget. “It would not be the same Hamburg. That’s the truth of the matter.”

June 17 is the scheduled re-vote day, in case of a failed budget. Various school officials and community members present at the meeting spoke of fiscal restrictions brought on the by the state and its Gap Elimination Adjustment mandates to districts that cause significant financial losses.

“We’ve got to contact our local representatives,” district parent Edward Piazza said. “Our choices are [to] give our children a lesser opportunity or give teachers an option of not getting paid a day. Those are not sensible decisions. These political officials need to know education does not get jammed down the totem pole.”

Board Member Catherine Schrauth-Forcucci thanked community members and teachers for speaking, lauding the efforts of those in district classrooms. “Our kids are being educated wonderfully due to dedicated, hard-working staff, who we’re lucky to have,” she said.

Board members differed on whether or not the best scenario to sell to district voters is a budget that has a tax levy increase greater than the maximum 4.23 percent, one that would thus limit program cuts but require a super-majority voter approval.

Board Member Holly Balaya said that she believed the district was behind on budget planning and needed to move forward with a fiscal plan that focused on either heightened cuts and lesser taxes (requiring a simple 50-percent plus one majority) or lesser cuts and higher-than-4.23-percent tax increase (necessitating a super-majority, 60-percent approval).’

Balaya and board President David Yoviene indicated that they would be in favor of presenting a budget with a higher levy increase for at least the upcoming school year (Yoviene suggesting a hike in the range of 6 – 6.5 percent), with cuts being lessened. Board Member Laura Heeter said that she was not sure about what kind of fiscal plan the district should craft.

“There’s no way I’d ever want to see programs cut,” Heeter said, adding that she could not imagine the community’s passing a budget above a 60-percent approval threshold, having higher than maximum tax levy increases. “I’m scared for the ramifications.”

Yoviene suggested that district officials go back to the drawing board and present a new budget to voters in June, with the stated maximum levy limit of 4.23 percent increase, if the initial fiscal plan with a 6 – 6.5 percent tax increase is rejected.

Board Vice President Sally Stephenson described a budget with significant cuts as “devastation to education,” adding that cuts to high school programs and other areas would be detrimental to the learning process. It was noted that Hamburg High’s graduation rate is 93 percent.

Board members Thomas Flynn III and Patricia Brunner-Collins each said that they did not believe a budget presented with a tax levy increase above the allowable 4.23 percent would garner 60 percent of voter approval. Brunner-Collins added that she was against any cuts to kindergarten.

It was reported that, even if the district implemented a 6.5-percent tax levy hike, a slight shortfall (gap) would remain and require additional cuts or funding from some area. Sporyz said that it is still unknown quite how much Hamburg will receive in additional funding from the state.

The next meeting of the Hamburg Central School Board will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8 at Union Pleasant Elementary School.

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