Time of sacrifice

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As expected, Governor David Paterson’s proposed 2009-10 state budget calls for severe cutbacks in state aid to school districts. The school aid package is a very complicated set of formulas, and it is very difficult and sometimes misleading for the media to use any particular summary or total figure to show the comparative impact among the state’s 700 school districts.

Some media are reporting an average statewide cut of 3.3 percent, while others are reporting a statewide average cut of 4.7 percent. This is sometimes a result of which aid changes are counted in or excluded from the totals, and whether the total percent of change is based on what we would have received under current law or what we may now receive compared to 2008-09.

In Southampton’s case, different methods of calculation show that we are slated to lose between 7.24 percent and approximately 13 percent of our state aid. In any event, the loss of aid is substantial and will have an impact on next year’s budget. In addition, the governor proposes to eliminate certain subsidies for STAR tax exemptions and to require that school districts contribute to the cost of educating preschool special education students (a cost that has always been paid by the county). The net effect in terms of aid cutbacks and added expenses will be substantial. The governor is proposing mandate relief to assist school districts in coping with growing budget expense at a time of declining state support. Some of the proposed mandate relief measures will be welcomed, while others, such as changes in state pension eligibility guidelines, are sure to be controversial.

We do not know which elements of the governor’s proposed state budget and school aid plan are likely to survive during the legislative debate process that will soon get underway. Lobbying groups for various areas including education, medical and emergency services, etc., will certainly seek changes to lessen the impact on their specific interests.

I am even more concerned, however, about the impact of the economic downturn on the local tax base. Southampton is much more reliant on real property taxes than on state aid (80 percent versus 5 percent). We have already been advised that the robust tax base growth that has kept tax rate increases reasonable in Southampton for many years has leveled or declined. We cannot simply pass along larger tax increases to a contracting tax base to offset state aid losses.

The administrative team has been working on the proposed 2009-10 school budget for many weeks. We have had meetings with the executive council of the Southampton Teachers Association, and we will be meeting with the leaders of other employee groups to enlist their understanding and cooperation as well.

We know that we will have to curtail spending significantly. I am fully committed to preserving student programs and services while avoiding or limiting job losses for staff and maintaining affordability for our taxpayers. I will need your help to accomplish this. The sacrifices will entail asking everyone to give up certain worthwhile but non-essential activities and items, and to volunteer more often to continue activities for children without submitting extra pay claims.

Effective January 1, we will freeze or significantly curtail planned expenditures for certain contracts, conferences, workshops, field trips, and other purchases. We will also seek to curtail expenses for certain substitutes, chaperones, supervisory personnel, and other extra salary assignments. I will provide more information on planned cost containment measures after the winter recess.

I am asking all of you to be realistic, cooperative, and confident that we can meet our current budget challenges together.

DR. J. RICHARD BOYESSuperintendent of SchoolsSouthampton Public Schools

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