Haldane Trustees Begin Tough 2013-14 Budget Talks

Meetings with unions will be part of the process

By Michael Turton

It was a financial discussion that involved many more words than numbers. At their Tuesday, Nov. 20 meeting, trustees for the Haldane School Board began talking about the challenges they face in crafting the 2013-14 budget.

Business Manager Anne Dinio presented the rollover budget. Photo by M. Turton

While the presentation of the “rollover budget” presented by Business Manager Anne Dinio was the first formal step in what will undoubtedly be an arduous process, this is a budget that has been on the minds of trustees and administration for many months — due mainly to the anticipated continuation of reduced state aid.

The rollover budget takes into account all expenditures that are already known for next year — items such as previously negotiated labor contracts, health and pension costs. Expenditures that cannot be calculated yet, such as the cost of fuel, are left at current budget levels, or a zero percent increase. Using those figures, the 2013-14 rollover budget expenditures total $23,008,970 — an increase of 4.93 percent or $1,081,404 more than in 2012-13.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti was quick to say, “People look at the increase in the rollover budget and ask if that is what their tax increase will be. It won’t be.” He said that last year the rollover budget came in at about 4 percent, but the final budget still came within the required state tax cap.

“It’s a starting point. It’s a reasonable rollover budget,” Dinio said. “There will be lots of ups and downs.” She said that once teacher retirements are known along with fuel and electric rates and other costs, a first draft budget will be presented. An indication of how seriously the school board is taking this year’s budget preparation is that the process has begun two months sooner than in previous years. “It’s early, but we need to get the ball rolling,” Haldane School Board President Michael Junjulas said.

In all likelihood, the revenue side of the budget will be a major hurdle. Dinio and Villanti estimate that state aid will be $523,000 less than in years prior to the state’s financial crisis. The state budget, including education grants, will likely be known in mid January.

“What’s playing out here is exactly the doomsday scenario we anticipated — the need to find more than half a million dollars in cuts in order to come in below the state tax cap,” Trustee Peter Henderson said. “In a small school district that is an enormous challenge.”

Villanti said that he plans to convene meetings in December, January and February with Haldane’s bargaining units, the unions that represent teaching and support staff, to discuss the budget situation. When he was elected trustee, Henderson said that if cuts in state aid continued at the same rate in 2013-14, he would ask for a voluntary wage freeze from staff.

Peter Henderson, left, said, “What’s playing out here is exactly the doomsday scenario we anticipated.” Photo by M. Turton

“There’s no secrets,” Villanti said. “We need open, transparent discussions and shared solutions. Consensus is not likely. I firmly believe that if we work hard enough and smart enough, when students walk into school, they won’t see the cuts.”

“Open dialogue is the key for us to emerge intact,” Henderson said. “What we’ve got going here is great. … It gets better every year … and we want to keep jobs. People must be free to offer (budget) ideas without fear of being put down. One stupid idea can lead to a creative idea in someone else’s mind.”

New York State Assemblywoman Representative Sandy Galef will attend a Jan. 15 workshop at Haldane to discuss state aid and related budget issues.

“It’s not going to be a ‘gotcha’ session,” Villanti said, “But there is a budget crisis.” He said that in a recent survey, several superintendents across the state indicated that their school districts are headed towards insolvency. “Something is not right when we lose $500,000 in aid, and get $10,000 in new aid.”

BOCES capital project moves forward

Villanti reported that all 18 school districts involved have now approved the $16.9 million project to repair leaking roofs, replace heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) units and make other capital repairs at the BOCES campus in Yorktown Heights. The project stalled when three districts voted against it several months ago, but they have since reversed their position. A unanimous vote is required.

Haldane’s share of the project is $250,198, spread over three years. A proposal for funding that share will be presented in December. Villanti supported the project despite the tough budget year. “We would have spent more money if it had been done hodge-podge,” he said. “What’s better — fixing a roof before it’s decimated or after?”

Principals’ reports

Elementary and Middle School Principal Brent Herrington presented an outline of “Second Step,” a character-education program for students in grades K-8. The program aims to increase students’ success at school while decreasing problem behaviors such as bullying. It promotes social and emotional competence along with self-regulation.

Students develop such traits and skills as empathy, managing emotions, problem solving, communications, bullying prevention, and avoiding substance abuse. Harrington said that research clearly shows that students who can self-regulate and show empathy — independent of adult supervision — enjoy greater academic success.

High School Principal Brian Alm outlined Haldane’s College and Career Readiness Program and included both hard and soft data in discussing areas of success and remaining challenges. He pointed to an increase in Tech Center enrollment and an equal decrease in college enrollment as evidence of better guidance in directing students to programs that match their skills.

At the same time, participation in Advanced Placement (AP) exams has more than doubled since 2008. Alm said that research shows that even students who achieve the lowest AP score of 1 perform better academically in college than students who have taken no AP exams. He stressed “21st-century skills” such as adaptability, critical thinking, grit, innovation and creativity as being the real measures of college readiness. “Our job is to find out how to measure” those attributes. Both presentations will be posted on the Haldane website.

Nov. 13 fields vote officially accepted

In their post-referendum celebration over voter approval of the $2 million capital project to upgrade the auditorium, locker rooms and main playing field, trustees and administration forgot one important legal requirement — to officially accept the results. They did so in a resolution at the Nov. 20 meting. “We’re grateful to the community for supporting the project, and for the great voter turnout,” Villanti said. “You’ve entrusted us to make it work. We take that trust very seriously.”

He also clarified an issue regarding funds to replace the artificial turf eight to 12 years done the road, saying that fees will be charged for use of the new field and that those revenues would go into the replacement fund. He said that someone had interpreted that to mean that user fees for the new field would pay the entire cost of turf replacement, and Villanti said that was clearly not the case.

Audit committee seeks new members

Trustees accepted resignations from two long-serving audit committee members, Michael LaRocco and Airinhos Serradas. Residents who want to serve on the committee and who have knowledge of finance and auditing principles should submit a letter of interest to District Clerk Kathy Marino.

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