Spending cuts made in Margaretville Central School budget

By Julia Green
The Margaretville Central School (MCS) Board of Education met last Wednesday for the third workshop in its budget process, which was primarily focused on looking at a budget work-up, as presented by MCS Superintendent Tony Albanese.
The board is currently considering a 2010-11 school-year budget of $10,734,078 as compared to $10,588,958 for the 2009-10 school year. The board will vote on the proposed budget at its monthly meeting on April 26.
In looking at initial budget-to-budget figures, Albanese said the board was facing an eight percent increase to the tax levy, as well as an additional four percent increase due to the gap reduction. That would amount to a 12 percent increase on the tax levy altogether, which Albanese referred to as “unacceptable.”
“We began with the premise that 12 percent on the tax levy was too high,” he said. “We got to 2.96 percent in the last meeting.”
In the draft of the budget Albanese presented last week, that figure has been shaved down to 2.34 percent on the tax levy.
At the start of the presentation, Albanese highlighted the importance of keeping in mind what he referred to as the key “concepts of importance” of the school – among them, preparing students for the 21st century, meeting the needs of all students, addressing the issue of declining enrollment, creating options and opportunities, and economic and educational affordability.
“Change or be changed,” he said, referring to the inevitable impact of the state of finances statewide.
The school has been holding focus groups with faculty and monthly meetings with a “supervisory team,” as well as meetings with the Margaretville Teachers’ Association (MTA) and Margaretville Educational Support Personnel Association (MESPA) regarding possible concessions. Albanese added that, during the budget process, all past practices would be challenged and “all areas must be justified.”
Among the supported options, according to Albanese, were the possibilities of reducing or eliminating non-mandated positions, combining middle school sections with lower numbers, reducing or eliminating high school electives with lower numbers, adding more distance-learning options, adding reading supports for middle and high school, and adding online electives for students to earn college credit.
In addition, Albanese said that the school would be looking to fill one instructional position following the retirement of a science teacher, but would not be looking to fill the position of a licensed teacher’s [aide/assistant].
“There are not cuts in personnel in this budget,” he said.
The areas that would see the most significant financial cuts in the proposed budget are substitutes, equipment, supplies, career technical education, MCS library supplies, computer-assisted instruction, athletic supplies and equipment, and special education insofar as moving toward a co-teaching plan.
Among the recommendations that he presented to the board were the addition of a full-time reading specialist for middle and high school levels, a disengagement from the Reading Recovery Program, one less Superintendent’s Conference Day, and an operation of the Universal Pre-K program with Margaretville’s own staff.
The full-time reading specialist would be funded by grant money, which Albanese said is already available in the budget.
“Based on the model of that [Reading Recovery] program, there are eight children that could receive services for the entire school year,” Albanese said in an interview Monday. “The plan would be to still provide services to those children but also to develop a more comprehensive K-12 model that would be more comprehensive and more consistent with how we’re trying to provide our reading services to students.”
He added that he hopes the new program will be able to also address the issue of reading problems among middle and high school students as well as elementary students.
In regard to the universal pre-K program, MCS has contracted with Head Start for the past two years for the half-day program, but Albanese said that under the new proposal, MCS would utilize the federally-allocated dollars internally to offer its own pre-K program.
The budget draft addressed a freeze in state aid for the second consecutive year, as well as a Gap Reduction in state aid to the tune of $231,000 and another possible withholding of aid money in June.
The proposed budget showed a total estimated revenues and fund balance of $4,124,113, as compared with $4,351,558 last year.
The program budget, which includes teaching, employee benefits and transportation, among other things, amounts to $7,790,970 – an increase of $36,004 from last year.
“I think what we have is a solid budget, which is at a cost that is hopefully affordable to our community,” Albanese said on Monday, “and it keeps all our programs in place and also keeps all our faculty in place for the options we’re trying to provide to our students.”