Large tax hikes or layoffs faced in Onetora District

By Jay Braman Jr.
Up to 38 teaching and staff jobs could be lost if the Onteora Central School District in a worst case budget scenario. Superintendent Dr. Leslie Ford announced that budget issues are going from bad to worse.
Until last week, Ford was hoping to prepare a proposed budget that would bring a four percent increase in the tax levy. To do that, severe cuts were planned.
That was before Ford got news that it now turns out the District will get almost $850,000 less than she expected.
This means either even more cuts to programming and staff or a bigger tax increase to ask voters to support when they vote on the budget in May.
On Tuesday Dr. Kathleen O’Brien, Assistant Super-intendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the District has prepared a worst case scenario for layoffs.
In the event voters turn down the budget and the district is forced into adopting a contingency budget, as many as 38 teachers and staff would lose their jobs at the end of this school year. That figure does not include independent contractors, some of which may also lose jobs as well.
O’Brien said those facing the ax have already been unofficially notified with the understanding that nothing is yet etched in stone.
The school board, O’Brien said, has several cost cutting options to consider. Some would bring fewer layoffs.
Presently, the school board is targeting a $2.3 million reduction in the budget in order to present voters with a four percent levy increase.
In addition to the $850,000 drop in what is called a “Federal gap elimination adjustment,” Superintendent Ford lists the largest areas of concern as a $685,000 reduction in State aid, elimination of the Federal stimulus money by 2012, and a projected loss of $100,000 in interest earned through Onteora’s financial accounts.
Increased costs include fuel, electricity, benefits, contractual obligations and additional State mandates which commonly carry insufficient funding.
Ford believes that the budget challenges will extend over the next two years regarding Federal, State and district revenue sources.
“I know that this is difficult news to hear, but I want to assure you that we have the ability and dedication to address the concerns in front of us…..We cannot let a tough financial climate stop the momentum we have built. We owe it to our students, our families and community to keep the district moving forward,” she said.
If any budget proposal is rejected two times by voters, the district would be forced to adopt a contingency budget, which is projected to bring with it a $3 million shortfall.
The budget goes before voters in May.