Administrators decline raises as budget deliberations continue
By Michael Turton
Trustees of the Haldane Board of Education reviewed the third in a series of budget proposals for 2013-14 at its meeting Tuesday, March 19. One number, the estimated tax rate increase — the figure that may be the most important to local taxpayers — remains unchanged at 2.83 percent.
It was easily the largest turnout of this year’s budget process. About 50 people, mainly parents, teachers and school administrators, attended the meeting, which was held in the music room in anticipation of the larger-than-usual audience.
The new proposal incorporates a number of changes, including some on the positive side — an exception to the rule as part of what trustees and senior staff have called their toughest budget ever.
Kindergarten, French intact — thanks to advocacy
Kindergarten will not be reduced to two classes as previously proposed. Current registration for next year stands at 51, and those students will be divided into three classes of roughly equal size. A French teaching position that was going to be reduced by 40 percent will retain its full-time status.
Those two bits of good news came about because Haldane might not be hit as hard by a reduction in high-tax relief funds provided by the state Department of Education, as previously thought. Because of a movement in the state Legislature, Haldane will likely get approximately $50,000 back from what had been a $136,380 reduction in that category. The state Assembly and Senate are debating bills that would result in either roughly a $50,000 “rebate” for Haldane or possibly as much as $100,000.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti praised state Sen. Terry Gipson for having spearheaded the fight to give back at least part of the high-tax relief. He also thanked the Haldane PTA for their campaign that saw more than 400 letters delivered to the legislators, asking for funding relief.
He urged residents to continue to apply pressure. “We’ve been talking about advocacy since December,” Villanti said. “Your work helped on high-tax aid. If they [legislators] don’t hear from us they think [everything] is OK. We need to be advocates for Haldane. This isn’t going away.”
‘Bubble Class’ only three classes
An additional teacher will not be hired for the “bubble class” — the large group of 75 students entering third grade next year. That will mean three classes of 25 students each, not four classes with 18 or 19 students, as parents and administration would prefer. Other cuts in instructional staff will include reducing two high school teaching positions, one in science and one in technology, by 40 percent.
Villanti said he hopes to hear “no later than next week” the exact amount of the high-tax relief rebate. When a parent of a third-grade student asked whether the larger sum of approximately $100,000, if received, could be put towards funding a fourth teacher for the “bubble class,” he said that the board would have to discuss various options.
Cuts in staffing, programs
For support staff, the only change in the latest proposal will see one part-time aide cut rather than two. Other reductions in support remain the same — the loss of a full-time bus driver/cleaner through attrition and the loss of two part-time bus drivers.
As outlined in the previous budget proposal, summer school will be eliminated. Other areas that will see reductions include special education revenues, athletics, operations and maintenance, classroom equipment and supplies and benefits related to staffing reductions.
The latest proposal will result in total spending of $22,240,187 in 2013-14, a budget-to-budget increase of 1.43 percent. Funds to be raised by local tax levy will increase by $619,849, bringing Haldane to the tax cap mandated by the state.
HAA declines negotiated raise
Jennifer Wilson, director of Special, Remedial and Assessment Services and chief information officer at Haldane, read a statement from the Haldane Administrative Association (HAA). “We recognize these are very difficult financial times for both the district and individuals. As such, our unit will forgo our negotiated salary increase for 2013-2014,” Wilson said. After a few seconds of silence, Junjulas said, “I’m speechless.” Trustee Peter Henderson said, “That is a tremendous gesture on your part.”
Earlier in the meeting, a parent had commented that it was “ironic” trustees had approved raises for administrative staff in such a tough budget year. Administrative Assistant Linda Dearborn, Director of Facilities Michael Twardy and Business Manager Anne Dinio, not members of HAA, received 2 percent raises, which Villanti described as a cost-of-living increase. Villanti declined his own negotiated raise earlier in this year’s budget process, and Dinio has done the same on more than one occasion in recent years.
The HAA, which had negotiated a 1 percent increase for 2013-14, consists of Wilson, Principals Brian Alm and Brent Harrington, Vice Principal Julia Sniffen and Director of Athletics and Dean of Students Tom Cunningham.
At a previous budget meeting, Alison Casey, president of the Haldane Faculty Association, the teachers’ union, said that administration should also feel some of the pain of the cuts. Both Haldane’s unions are mid-way through negotiated contracts that include pay raises and that carry them through 2013 and into 2014.
“I really thought cuts would be more savage. This [budget] is fair to taxpayers. It’s equitable with minimal effect on classroom instruction,” said Henderson, who at times has voiced the view that teachers should also voluntarily decline a pay raise. He alluded to salaries again, saying, “The only thing I’m not happy about is that total compensation [wages and benefits] take up an ever-increasing piece of the pie. It is not sustainable. We must come to grips with that somehow.”
iPads, fields, election
Trustees voted in favor of purchasing 30 to 60 iPads annually until each student in grades 10 through 12 has one of the tablets for individual use. Henderson was the lone trustee who voted against. He favored purchasing an additional 50 iPads for shared use.
Trustee Jon Champlin reported that PLAY Haldane has now reached $92,000 of its $100,000 goal. Entergy Corp. recently announced a contribution of $10,000. An additional $9,000 has come through donations in the names of Larry Brigati, Kathyrine Thorpe and Sara “Sally” Peparo, who all passed away recently. Champlin said the fundraising group hopes to work past its goal in order to help fund a concession stand and press box at the main sports field.
The deadline for applications from residents who wish to run for two trustee seats on the school board is April 22. President Michael Junjulas and Vice President Gillian Thorpe are not seeking re-election.
Photos by M. Turton