Written by Jill Nossa Friday, 27 January 2012 00:00
Last week the North Shore School District Board of Education held a meeting at the middle school café to present the preliminary budget to a large audience of North Shore residents. Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick opened the meeting by clearing the air about what might have been forefront on peoples’ minds.
“This board has made it clear to me that they in no way wish to override the tax cap,” he said.
This preliminary budget proposed a budget-to-budget increase of 1.85 percent; before presenting the budget to the board, $1.7 million in cuts were already made, and another $1.4 million would need to be cut to stay within the budget. Because so much has already been cut, and the goal of the board is to keep in line with their mission statement of keeping as many programs as possible, he said most of the cuts would have to come from staff and benefits.
As proposed, the 2012-13 budget would cut one administrative position and 15 to 19 teaching positions. Some of the other significant cuts would come from interscholastic activities at the middle school level and co-curricular arts.It was explained that, under the new law, a defeated budget would result in a tax levy increase of 0 percent, which would either be the same or lower than the previous year’s budget. What that means for this district is that, if the budget is not approved, an additional $2 million would need to be cut. The budget presentation outlined areas that will not be affected as well as areas that could be cut.
“It is not all doom and gloom, but it is tough, and it can be done,” said Melnick.
He said the staff cuts would be across all five buildings and would not target any specific tenure level or area of instruction.
Of the new tax cap law, Melnick said, “It has not fixed the problem…it is inherently unfair and limits our ability to raise revenue.” He said the money raised through taxes no longer supports all resources necessary to maintain high quality education in the schools; therefore they are seeking ways to raise money through private funds, such as with the Viking Foundation.
The Viking Foundation has already raised nearly $1 million from about 30 people.
One person asked why the board was not attempting to override the cap this year.
“To try to override this year would be terribly divisive,” said Trustee Dr. Igor Webb. “We don’t want to pit people against each other.”
“We would be putting the budget at risk if we try to go above,” added Trustee Dr. Herman Berliner. “We will look at it year by year…it would enrage the government and other politicians to do it this year.”
According to the state tax cap law, it would take a 60 percent public vote on a school budget to override the two percent tax cap.
Board President Carolyn Genovesi said the terminology itself is difficult to explain to people so perhaps in a few years, if the economy improves and they can educate people better on what the tax cap means, they can look at overriding it.
“I live on a fixed budget that does not change from year to year. If I have to live with it, why can’t you live within your budget?” a resident of the district asked.
Melnick explained that for the school district, there are state mandated costs that they have no control over and must pay for every year. The state’s pension fund is the biggest factor, and what happens, he said, is that the state is increasing taxes through the school districts, so it looks like the districts are being fiscally irresponsible, when that is not the case.
“We need to band together…the teachers are not the unions…when schools go down, whole communities go down, and this will only stop if teachers start a revolution, so I am asking people to be brave,” said one woman to the board members and other members of the audience.