Facing a $1.7 million budget gap, the West Islip Board of Education must now make a final decision on budget cuts that one trustee called “the least of all evils.”
Among the major items up for consideration is shifting to an eight period day at the middle school level and implementing two furlough days in the 2013-14 school year. Those items alone would result in a cost savings of $1.322 million. In addition, board trustees also are reviewing a list of smaller cuts to other program areas.
With the proposed spending plan needing to be approved by April 17, board president Steve Gellar said trustees must now “make the cuts required to bring the budget in under the tax cap.”
During his opening remarks at Monday’s budget work session, Gellar noted that board has been in discussion with the teacher’s union seeking some contractual concessions in an effort to close the budget gap and possibly spare the district of some cuts.
“The board is still in discussion with the teacher’s union…but there is nothing positive to report at this time,” he said. “The teachers are unwilling to commit to a plan that will preserve both jobs and educational opportunities.”
Through the budget formation process that began publicly in February, board members and administrators were hopeful that additional state aid and the issue of pension smoothing would help reduce the financial burden facing the school district.
Gellar noted that the additional $150,000 in state aid West Islip will receive coupled with the resolution of the pension smoothing issue did little to close a budget gap that had been nearly $2 million.
This year, West Islip’s pension costs are rising $3 million, a figure that is set by the state. School officials were hopeful that a small decrease in the percentage the school district would be required to pay to the pension system would provide some relief.
However, the plan approved by state lawmakers was of no financial help to the school district, and in fact, would cause more financial pain in the years ahead, school officials said.
One area of concern for some residents in attendance at Monday’s budget work session was the projected classes size at the fourth and fifth grade level in some schools for the coming school year.
At Paul J. Bellew, the average class size in fourth grade will be 26.25 students while fifth grade will be 26.6 students. Bayview’s fifth grade average class size will be 25.3 students and Manetuck’s fourth grade class size will average 25 students.
While board of education members were in agreement with residents that they would like to see these class sizes lower, adding four sections to lower the average class sizes would cost more than $300,000.
However, Superintendent Richard Simon, said the average class sizes at the three schools fall within recommended levels. He noted that guidelines in the current teacher’s contract allow for an average of between 24 and 27 students at the fourth and fifth grade level.
The next board of education meeting is set for Wednesday, April 17, 8 p.m. at the high school. Trustees will adopt the proposed budget that will then go before voters on Super Tuesday, May 21.
A video of Monday’s meeting is now available on the school district’s website.