Sewanhaka district job cuts likely

Richar Tedesco

Sewanhaka Central High School District Superintendent of Schools Ralph Ferrie estimated last Wednesday that the district would need to eliminate as many as 50 staff positions – including 25 teaching positions – to cut $3.27 million in expenses from the 2013-14 school budget.

“They’re the fixed costs in terms of contractual obligations,” Ferrie said of the expenses after the second Sewanhaka school budget meeting last Wednesday night. 

Salary and benefits, he said, make up 80 percent of the district school budget. 

District administrators’ second draft of the budget projected the $3.27 million in cuts to reduce a $174.42 million budget that school officials said would be needed to maintain all programs and personnel. 

Ferrie said to maintain current staff levels district spending would need to increase 4.4 percent – an increase of $7.39 million that would exceed the state-mandated tax cap. He expressed little hope that a possible increase in state aid to the district could alleviate the problem. 

“I hope the school aid numbers would trend slightly better but I don’t expect they’ll trend significantly better,” Ferrie said 

Based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget in January, the Sewanhaka district is expect to receive $27.16 million in state aid next year, a $922,155 increase from the $26.24 million it received this year, according to Maureen Kenney, Sewanhaka assistant superintendent for finance and operations. 

Kenney said if state aid was restored to the $30.5 million the school district received in 2009-10, the tax levy could be reduced by $3.34 million to 3.17 percent.

“We wouldn’t even have to be talking about budget cuts right now,” she said.

Sewanhaka Trustee David Fowler said the projected cuts would have a devastating impact on the school district.

“We’re going to start feeding on ourselves and destroy what we do have. What use to be unthinkable is becoming a possibility,” Fowler said. 

Ferrie said Sewanhaka currently ranks 55th of the 57 school districts in Nassau County in costs per student at $17,800, which he said is $7,430 less than the county average of $25,230. 

Student enrollment districtwide, he said, is expected to drop from the current 8,474 to 8,299 next year, with enrollment at New Hyde Park Memorial High School expected to drop from its current level of 1,716 to 1,614 in the 2013-14 school year.

Since the first budget presentation on Feb. 28, when $3.4 million in cuts were projected, administrators have come up with $182,592 in specific reductions, including $113,646 from two teacher retirements, $18,774 from one groundskeeper retirement, $20,000 to replace cell phones with walkie talkies among maintenance personnel and $30,172 in insurance premiums, Kenney said.

Those cuts would still see the budget rise by 3.24 percent from the current $167 million, necessitating the $3.27 million in cuts to stay in line with the state-mandated tax cap. A $174.42 million budget would mean a 5.9 percent increase in the tax levy of $7.6 million to $137.29 million, well above the tax cap limit.   

Projected cuts presented by administrators on Wednesday included 23 teaching positions for a savings of $2.07 million; 10 teaching assistant positions for a savings of $550,000; 10 administration positions for a savings of $281,861; five clerical positions for a savings of $250,000; restructuring the district’s English as a Second Language program (including elimination of two full-time teaching positions) for a savings of $365,572; reorganization of night and security supervision for a savings of $55,000.

Kenney said a total of five retirements are now expected, including the two added in last week’s calculations. She said she expects there may be several more teacher retirements announced before the final budget is presented on April 4. 

Ferrie said retirements could reduce the number of teachers who would need to be laid off to 16 or 17 districtwide. He said district staff members who are likely to lose their positions will be informed in one-on-one meetings next week.

Ferried predicted “subtle” changes in class sizes. But he said likely cuts in staffing of after-school activities could reduce extracurricular activities that approximately 1,500 students participate in.

“It’s going to take the Disney World out of what the schools are,” he said.

Staff salaries will rise by 2.4 percent to $98.6 million in 2013-14 from $96.2 million in the current year. Employee benefits will rise 13.9 percent to $43.6 million from $38.2 million. 

Kenney has said the teachers retirement system rate would be 16.25 percent in 2013-14, a 37 percent increase over the 11.84 rate in the current school year.

In 2011, the Sewanhaka Federation of Teachers agreed to a zero salary increase in the 2011-12 school year, foregoing a 2.95 percent increase that saved the district an estimated $2.1 million and as many as 50 teaching positions. 

In exchange, they received a two-year extension of their existing contract through the 2013-14 year, with 1.25 percent salary increases this year and next year.  

Support staff also accepted a zero salary increase last year, with reduced increases of 1.5 percent in two succeeding years. Administrators, including district principals and assistant principal, accepted salary cuts from flat increases of $3,000 to $1,500 last year.

In other developments:

• The Sewanhaka school board heard a presentation from district architect Wiedersum Associates at Tuesday night’s meeting proposing $78.17 million in construction and repairs for the five district high schools. Company head Richard Wiedersum proposed $10.3 million in improvements at the New Hyde Park Memorial High School, including $1.3 million for a new athletic fields.

“We have to study this. We have to think about it,” said Sewanhaka board President Jean Fichtl.

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Richar Tedesco

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