Mohonasen faces staff cuts next year as spending is restricted by tax cap
ROTTERDAM The Mohonasen Central School District could be forced to cut 34 to 47 positions next year as it tries to comply with the state’s property tax increase cap, according to school officials.
District Superintendent Kathleen Spring gave a preliminary overview of the 2012-2013 budget at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
“We’re going to have to make very, very difficult decisions again,” she said.
“We will be talking about what non-mandated things — if any — can we keep in our program?”
Elementary art, music and librarians could all be on the chopping block. She urged the community to lobby legislators.
“I don’t mean to depress people. I’m hoping that we can get people upset enough to speak out,” she said.
The district was forced to cut 34 positions earlier this year — 19 teachers, four teaching assistants, nine support staff and 21⁄2 administrative positions. The teachers agreed to freeze their salaries through Feb. 1 of next year and give back two professional development days for a savings of $457,000. The support staff and administrators also made concessions to save another $70,000.
Maintaining the existing programs would result in a budget of $46.2 million, which would be an increase of $3.3 million from the current budget.
Spring said the district will likely whittle that down once it gets more specific numbers for health insurance costs.
Mohonasen is hurt because it is a less wealthy district and is more heavily dependent upon state aid, which has been flat or declining for the last few years, according to Spring. The funding formula doesn’t equitably distribute aid to school districts, she said, and low-wealth districts are being penalized more.
The district’s “wealth index ratio,” which is a measure of the property wealth, is 0.64. A figure of 1.0 means an average amount of wealth.
Also, federal aid is ending, Spring said.
The district received $800,000 last year from the federal teacher jobs bill for the current budget year.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Denise Swezey went through the tax cap formula step by step. The formula takes the current-year tax levy, adds a growth factor if there is any growth in the community and adds any payments in lieu of taxes received during the year. The district is then allowed to subtract any taxes to pay capital improvements, court orders or judgments.
The district is able to exclude pension contribution costs that increase more than 2 percentage points. For example, if the contribution rate for the Employee Retirement System is increasing from 16.3 percent to 18.9 percent — a jump of 2.6 percentage points — the district can exclude 0.6 percentage points from counting toward the cap but the other 2.0 percent does count.
Swezey said based on the rough numbers, the portion exempt from the cap would be $28,013 and the net increase is $96,627.
However, the current figures shows that the Teachers Retirement System contribution is going up from 11.11 percent to 12.5 percent. Since this is below 2 percentage points, the district has to absorb the entire $334,507 cost.
Swezey said this does not help.
District officials submitted some hypothetical scenarios. If the tax levy limit were 4.24 percent, the district would have to cut nearly $2.4 million in spending and if the limit were 3.35 percent, it would have to cut $2.6 million. The worst-case scenario would be if the district were forced to adopt a contingency budget with no tax levy tax increase and it had to cut $3.3 million.
If the district decides to submit a budget with a tax increase exceeding the cap, it would require approval by 60 percent of the voters. Otherwise, the budget requires approval by only a simple majority.
Spring said that Mohonasen has one of the lowest per-pupil costs in the state.
“That’s a statement that we’re efficient but it can work against you because there’s no padding,” she said. “Every year, it becomes more serious for us because we have been cutting for so long.”