Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 04 June 2010 00:00
The Levittown School District’s Board of Education has adopted a revised budget to put forth to voters after the first proposed budget failed by 23 votes on May 18.
At a meeting on Wednesday, May 26, six of the seven board members voted in favor of presenting to the voters a budget that is a 5.73 percent increase over the 2009/10 budget. The failed budget proposed a 6.12 percent increase over this year’s budget. The estimated tax levy increase is 2.63 percent, compared to the 3.81 percent increase proposed by the budget that failed.
Trustee James Ward voted against the budget, saying he would have liked to see a budget that is $3 or $4 million less than what the board approved.
“We shouldn’t have looked at the [failed] budget and taken money out,” Ward told the Levittown Tribune. “We should have taken the current budget and increased it.”
The school board voted to take $700,000 in revenue from the reserve account to lessen the tax burden, and will be taking out $700,000 in expenses from the budget. Thus the projected tax levy is reduced by $1.4 million.
Dr. Herman Sirois, superintendent of schools, cautioned the board in using money from the reserve fund as revenue, saying, “That $700,000 is not going to be there next year; we’re then going to have to bite the bullet and cut the budget or raise taxes.”
Sirois told the Tribune that $3.5 million has already been taken from the reserve account and included as revenue for the budget. That reserve account has less than $10 million; subtract the $3.5 million and the additional $700,000 and there’s less than $5 million left, Sirois said.
The board has not decided yet where in the budget that $700,000 will be cut.
Some people in attendance last week said the people have spoken and the board should respect their votes and accept a failed budget.
“It failed by 23 votes; it could have failed by two votes,” Patricia Stillwagon told the board. “It failed because people were not happy with the budget.”
The $193,543,816, 2010/11 budget that failed was over $11 million more than the previous year’s at $182,382,412. The newly adopted budget of $192,843,816 will go to voters to approve or deny. If the new budget doesn’t pass, the district will adopt a contingency budget with a zero percent increase from the 2009/10 budget.
“Of course [the budget] should pass, it’s a sound budget,” Sirois told the Tribune. “If this budget doesn’t pass, no budget will ever pass in this district.”
Trustee Mike Pappas, among other board members, echoed the sentiment, saying, “If this budget doesn’t pass it could ruin education in our town for decades.” He agreed they need to cut expenditures “but I don’t think it should be done by excessing additional teachers,” he said.
At the meeting, Ward announced the current budget for the 2009/10 school year is “padded” with $8.2 million of unspent funds, something critics of what has been called a “bloated” budget, have been saying. It was an announcement, Ward told the Tribune, that should not be news to the school board.
“The board should have known that,” he said. “I happened to have it because I do go through the budget.”
Ward said the $8.2 million would grow to a $9.4 million surplus that would not be expended between now and the end of the school year, June 30.
“There’s always going to be a cushion,” Ward said. “Budgeting isn’t an exact science by any stretch of the imagination but to me that’s unconscionable.”
At the meeting Sirois acknowledged the over $8 million that has gone un-spent in the current budget and has been budgeted in the proposed 2010/11 budget.
“Money is over budgeted,” he said.
One of the many people who implored the board to present a responsible budget that will pass was Jason Feiner, chairman of the Levittown Budget Citizens Advisory Committee.
“If you don’t do something now, you’ll have no choice but to cut where the children will get hurt,” Feiner said at the meeting. “Do something for the students; cut the budget in the right places…so there’s no chance that it can fail.”
The budget re-vote will be held Tuesday, June 15 from 12 to 9 p.m.