ALBANY - As school districts present their first budgets to voters under the property tax cap on May 15, they have cut instructional and non-instructional staff, sports, extracurricular activities and elective courses, as well as maintenance and transportation in order to keep their budgets within the cap.
Those are the findings of a new survey of 403 school districts released by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the New York State Association of School Business Officials (NYSASBO).
Based on responses to the survey, the groups estimate that those 403 districts alone will eliminate a total of 4,263 positions, including both teachers and non-teachers, in the 2012-13 school year.
School leaders are taking extraordinary steps to keep their budgets in line with the tax levy cap, said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. They are negotiating salary freezes, sharing administrators, and outsourcing services. But that isnt always enough.
The survey of our members clearly indicates that school districts have overwhelmingly complied with the spirit of the tax cap, unfortunately to the detriment of their educational mission and financial stability, said NYSASBO Executive Director Michael J. Borges.
Key findings from the survey include:
■ 64 percent of districts plan to cut teaching positions in the 2012-13 school year.
■ About one-quarter of districts have already cut more than 20 teaching positions in the previous two budget years, with some cutting more than 100 teaching positions.
■ 66 percent of districts also plan on cutting non-teaching positions in 2012-13.
■ More than half of school districts (53 percent) will increase class sizes in 2012-13 because of staffing cuts.
■ 40 percent of districts plan to reduce or eliminate electives and extracurricular activities, including sports.
■ About 25 percent of districts will cut programs that provide extra help to students.
■ 30 percent of districts will curtail pupil transportation, leading to longer bus rides for students.
In addition to cutting personnel and programs, nearly all districts (99 percent) plan to use reserve funds to minimize their 2012-13 tax levies. In fact, school districts statewide plan to use $1.3 billion in 2012-13 – an average of nearly $2 million per district. Thats after using $1.45 billion in reserves in 2011-12.
Few districts are adding to their reserve funds today. Most districts will deplete their resources very shortly, said Kremer.
To help schools reduce expenses and stay within their tax levy limits in future years, both school boards and business officials are calling on lawmakers to enact three specific mandate relief measures before the end of the current legislative session: repeal state requirements for school districts to pay employee salary increases after a contract has expired, allow schools to use national procurement cooperatives, and eliminate excessive state special education mandates.
Noting that state aid to schools is now capped at the rate of growth in personal income, Borges added, With so many schools using reserve funds, unless the state provides additional aid or mandate relief – or some combination of both, schools will be forced to continue to erode programs.