SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT RECOMMENDS $1.1M IN REDUCTIONS TO BUDGET DRAFT; TRANSLATES INTO 2.2% INCREASE OVER CURRENT YEAR
March 8, 2014 -- After presenting a "first draft" budget for 2014-15 that would increase spending by 3.315% over this year, Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Melnick has recommended that the school board trim the proposal by $1,125,362. The revisions were made at the February 25 and March 6 meetings and will allow the district to put before voters in May a budget with a tax levy that is within the limit imposed by Albany.
The greatest reductions to the budget draft, announced at this past Thursday's meeting, came about through revising downward, by $392,643, the amount that the district would be contributing to employee benefits programs. More specifically, Dr. Melnick stated that the District would be able to reduce contributions to the Retirement System (ERS) by $20,000, to the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) by $144,900, and towards Health Insurance by $218,000. The remainder of the reductions to the benefits budget lines were realized by eliminating two teaching and two administrative positions which lowered the district's Social Security contributions.
Despite these reductions to the budget draft, district contributions for employee benefits will still increase overall by $962,560 or 3.96% over the current year. The 2013-14 budget to 2014-15 budget change in each category is as follows: for ERS, a $126,403.48 or 5.6% decrease; for TRS, a $364,425.97 or 4.9% increase; and for Health Insurance, a $356,508.88 or 3.47% increase.
The amount the District contributes to both ERS and TRS is mandated by New York State. For health insurance, teachers contractually are required to pay 20% of the premium.
The increase in district contributions to the pension system is significantly less than what the District had been bracing itself for this past fall, when, based on projections from the Empire Center on New York State Policy, school district contributions to the Teacher's retirement system were expected to increase from 16.25% of payroll this year to as high as 23% next year. Dr. Melnick reported in November that numbers provided by the Teacher’s Retirement System showed that the increase in the district's contribution would be 17.25 to 17.75% percent of payroll, not the 23% that the district had been anticipating.
In addition to announcing the revisions to the employees benefit lines, the Superintendent, this past Thursday, recommended cutting approximately $150,000 from other areas of the budget draft, including $100,000 from special education (most of which came from reducing by $75,000 the financial cushion that is put in place should a child requiring placement in a BOCES special education program move into the district).
These reductions are on top of those proposed at the February 25th meeting - the most significant of which will result from administrative restructuring with the secondary STEM and Humanities directorships being eliminated and replaced with "Lead Teacher" positions in both the Middle and High Schools in the four core subject areas - Math, Science, English, and Social Studies.
The restructuring, Dr. Melnick said, would result in approximately $250,000 in savings in salaries as the two directors' positions would have cost the district $325,000 next year, while the stipends paid to the Lead Teachers will total close to $80,000.
In addition, Dr. Melnick announced at the earlier meeting that two teaching positions at Glen Head Elementary would be eliminated due to declining enrollment, with the school graduating five fifth grade classes in June and only three kindergarten classes entering in September. The savings in salaries will be about $180,000, he said.
Overall the $97,181,190 initial budget draft, with the Superintendent's recommendations, has been trimmed by more than $1.1 million which translates into a $2,070,260 or a 2.2% increase over this year's spending plan of $93,985,568. The current proposal is $112,247 lower than the initial target of 96,168,075 - the amount that the Superintendent said would allow the spending plan to stay below the tax levy limit.
At this past Thursday's meeting, Board President Herman Berliner asked the board to consider using a portion of that cushion to fund the installation of blue light phones to improve safety at the Middle School and High School - a proposal that was met with some resistance from at least a couple of board members and that will most likely be discussed further at the March 20 meeting, when Dr. Melnick returns with more figures regarding costs (see Board Notes).
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