As he has at many previous meetings, Cullen made it clear that increases in teacher retirement and health care benefits are the largest and most rapidly expanding costs the district must cover. A 22 percent increase in retirement costs and a 27 percent increase in health care spending, he said, were the “big drivers from a budgeting perspective,” adding that those expenses were outside the district’s control.
The Program portion of the budget contained many cuts in addition to the headlining loss of instructional positions, and Cullen detailed each in turn. He explained that what looked like a nearly $700,000 decrease in pupil services was actually only a shift in accounting practices, and that a $180,000 shrinkage of Occupational Education was due to a decrease in the student population. He also mentioned that the district’s funding of “Co-Curricular Activities” — which include clubs — would be cut from $280,000 this year to only $91,000 in 2013-14. He said that “school principals are providing input to [Superintendent] Dr. [James] Mapes about which clubs to cut.”
A regular meeting of the Board of Education followed the budget work session on Feb. 13. At the second session, members of the public had the opportunity to advocate for their favorite aspects of the school system. A group of some 20 girls, led by BHS senior Casey Barbario, spoke about the importance of the Sportsnite program, which will be in jeopardy next year. Barbario, captain of the 2013 Gold Team, stressed that Sportsnite will celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, and that the tradition brings all of Baldwin together.
Asked what he thought of the Sportsnite plea, Cullen said he and his fellow administrators and trustees were taking the issue to heart. “The board is sensitive to everything,” he said. “Certainly a longstanding item like Sportsnite, it all has to be considered.”