In its third draft, the Newark School District budget will go back to the drawing board as officials attempt to whittle away at a $1.39 million gap that would equate to an 11.2 percent tax hike if approved as is.

In its third draft, the Newark School District budget will go back to the drawing board as officials attempt to whittle away at a $1.39 million gap that would equate to an 11.2 percent tax hike if approved as is.

“We still have more work to do,” Superintendent Henry Hann told School Board members. “It’s a slippery slope your on when you use your savings — a slippery slope that could easily become a cliff.”

On March 16, Hann presented the third draft of the budget to a full house of teachers and staff, who were not surprised to hear jobs would be cut. The question still remains as to which ones will ultimately end up on the chopping block as Hann and Assistant Superintendent for Business Robert Fogel continue working to tighten up a spending plan totaling $40,856,214. Fogel said any staff members whose position is being considered in the cuts has already been notified.

Hann’s “slippery slope” refers to the suggestion of drawing from the district’s savings to fill the gap left behind by cuts to state aid. Some two-thirds of the district’s budget is made up of state aid, which was decreased from over $25 million last year to $23,716,919 — a cut of $1,902,354. Initial drafts of the budget prepared by Hann and Fogel reflected a $2 million gap from the loss of aid. Meanwhile, salaries went up 2.25 percent, benefits are up 11.6 percent and debt is up 14.4 percent over last year.

To reduce the gap, Fogel said they were able to tighten up contractual expenses some 13.1 percent. Among proposed reductions outlined in draft 3 are: cutting a $48,000 full time teacher on special assignment position that has been funded by federal stimulus money ARRA grant; a $48,000 special education/literacy coach position at Kelley, also funded by a federal ARRA grant, would be eliminated; two Kelley School fourth grade teaching positions ($96,000) would be eliminated due to declining enrollment projections; one district reading teacher ($48,000) would be eliminated because of enrollment; a special education teacher at Perkins School ($48,000) would be eliminated based on student need; a social studies teaching position ($48,000) shared between Newark High School and Newark Middle School would be cut due to enrollment; a half time ESL teacher ($24,000) would be eliminated based on enrollment; a part-time foreign language teacher at NHS ($28,800) would be eliminated due to enrollment; a shared, full time, high school and middle school special education teacher ($48,000) would be cut due to enrollment and a reduction in student services; 15 hours per day of paraprofessional time at Lincoln, Perkins and Kelley schools would be cut to save $27,000; and a full time district custodian/cleaner position would be cut.

Other reductions could include one clerical position and one technology position that could be supplied through BOCES.

“The sad and tragic thing is the people affected by these reductions are hardworking, dedicated professionals in our district,’’ Hann said. “It’s a very regrettable situation we are in.’’

Newark is facing a declining enrollment, which will also play a part in what classes may be eliminated. Hann reviewed potential class reductions that can still be made due to low student sign up, including art, business, math, elementary general education, science and special education classes. The board discarded the idea of a half-day kindergarten program.

Fogel said the presentation to the board was intended to help gain some guidance on what they see as the next steps in a difficult budget process. The board, dissatisfied with an 11 percent increase, recommended Hann and Fogel find a solution in a combination of cuts, pulling from the general fund and a smaller tax rate increase.

“I find myself thinking of the word pain in looking at this,” Board President Roberta Colacino said. “It’s going to be an ouch to everybody. There isn’t anybody who’s not going to be affected by this.”
Hann and Fogel will present a fourth draft of the budget to the board on April 6.

With news of further state aid cuts in the coming years, Hann told the board next year they will have to begin looking at school facilities — the district has five buildings — and the possibility of closing one or more to cut expenses.

“We can’t keep cutting faculty,” School Board member Tom Ledbetter said. “I see the only people who are suffering are our kids and the people we layoff.”

The board has until April 22 to approve a budget to send to voters. Fogel expects the board to make that final approval by the April 13 meeting.