School district facing $9.8 million budget gap
Newburgh Enlarged City School District officials painted a grim picture of the 2013-2014 budget outlook during the first in a series of workshops to be held over the next few weeks.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Michael Pacella began the Feb. 7 meeting by reminding Board of Education members that Newburgh’s current operating budget is $228 million. Taking into account things like salary increases and a $1.5 million tuition payment for the recently approved Newburgh Preparatory Charter High School, Pacella shared that next year’s budget would rise to $244.9 million.
“If there were no cuts, you’d be looking at a 16 percent tax increase,” said Pacella, explaining that even if the school board approved the use of $2 million of its fund balance next year, they would still need to come up with $9,839,000 worth of reductions in order to arrive at the 6.13 percent tax increase that is allowed by New York State law.
“Members of the senior staff have been reviewing certain items but $9.8 million is not going to be found by reducing supplies or cutting some corners on equipment,” he said. “There are larger chunks we have to look at.”
Before opening the floor to hear feedback from the board members, Pacella proceeded to share what some of those “larger chunks” might look like. He said that based on enrollment, central administrators had identified three elementary schools – one in each of the municipalities – that could be closed for a savings of $5 to 6 million.
Pacella also mentioned that switching from full-day to half-day kindergarten would close the gap by an additional $3.5 million.
“Even with those two drastic things we’re still short,” said President Dawn Fucheck, summing up the shock felt by the entire board.
School board member Judith McAfee worried about the effect that closing elementary schools would have on the rest of the district and requested more information about class sizes before discussions continued.
“Hopefully when we see [the numbers], all those dollars will be secondary to human cost and that we put the children first,” she said. “Please, let’s make sure that when we look at it, we don’t get locked in on dollar signs but that we look at kids.”
Pizzo reminded the board that no final decisions had to be made at this point, but said there was great value in having open discussions.
“You will be hearing certain things mentioned but please don’t panic,” he said. “We have a four month journey ahead of us. Many things that may look like they’re going to be cut in the beginning don’t end up being cut.”
The next budget workshop will take place in the Newburgh Free Academy auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 21. It will begin at 6 p.m.
By JESSICA MURRAY