As budget discussions progress in District 13 for the 2014-15 school year, Board of Education members know they still have some work to do.
A draft $45.8 million budget was presented to the public on Feb. 12, a 2.62 percent spending increase over the current year. The tax levy would rise by 2.35 percent, which is the district’s allowable limit, and the average tax bill would go up by $82 next year.
Board of Education President Sean Douglas said some concerns expressed by parents that night, specifically in regards to math, will prompt trustees to take another look at services offered for students.
Tara Casucci asked district officials to provide more math support for students in the younger grades. She noted that intervention programs aren’t offered until third grade. With the raised expectations resulting from the Common Core Learning Standards, Casucci said the extra support is critical. “Math is going to get very hard,” she said.
Christine O’Toole, vice president of the Wheeler Avenue School PTA, said the building has about 600 students but only one math specialist. She asked the board about providing more support there, even if only part time. O’Toole agreed that the increased expectations has created this need. “Kids that weren’t struggling before are now struggling,” she said.
Douglas said that the board, over its next few meetings, will look at ways to provide additional services within the confines of a tax-cap compliant budget.
The draft budget maintains all programs and services for students next year. There would be a reduction of three classroom teachers, which is based on enrollment projections. The student population is expected to drop next year by about 40 children.
District officials are looking to add another special education class next year for children with autism, and hire two additional teaching assistants.
As in years past, the budget is being driven by mandated increases. Health insurance premiums are going up by more than $250,000, while pension costs are expected to spike by more than a half-million dollars.
Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Robb-Fund said that the cost of these benefits continues to skyrocket, but administrators expect that payments to the state pension system will begin to level off as early as next year. She added that the rates are set by the state, and districts must pay what they are told.
District 13 is expecting to see a savings of roughly $300,000 in heating and electricity costs next year, the result of an energy performance contract that was completed over the summer. The money from the savings will be used to pay for the work, which includes new boilers, lighting upgrades and heating controls.
The district will set aside $548,600 for various capital projects next year. Work would include the replacement of exit doors at the James A. Dever, Wheeler Avenue and Willow Road schools, repaving the blacktop area at Willow, a handicapped access ramp at Howell Road, and replacing the fixtures in one bathroom at each school. Robb-Fund said the goal is to redo one bathroom per building every year over the next decade.
Money would be set aside for future projects, including the replacement of seats in the Wheeler Avenue School auditorium, a project that is expected to cost up to $350,000. “We don’t bond,” Robb-Fund said. “We save until we can afford something, and then we do the project. It’s a prudent way of budgeting.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business Meredith Brosnan said the district would also put aside some extra money for paint, in the hopes of being able to refurbish the gymnasiums at Howell, Willow and Dever in the near future. For several years, the principals have been requesting that work, which would cost about $25,000 per building.
The budget assumes $9.67 million in state aid next year, a slight increase from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal. Brosnan said that traditionally the Legislature comes through with extra funding. The district would use $1.875 million from its reserves.
Douglas said that while there is still more work to do, he is happy with the plan put forth by administrators. He said it supports a full curriculum that includes music, art, science and social studies.
“We thought it was a good budget,” he said. “It definitely keeps in place services for students and it’s definitely responsible.”
The Board of Education will hold its next meeting on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. at the James A. Dever School.