BOE: Budget plan eliminates 14 teachers

The Board of Education’s proposed 2019-20 budget eliminates more than a dozen teachers and an assistant principal — and the mayor’s recent comments and city leaders’ history of slashing education spending could mean more cuts are on the way.

In a 7-2 vote, with Kathleen Yolish and Dr. Darlisa Ritter opposed, the Board of Education Monday approved, albeit reluctantly, school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet’s proposed $74,873,730 budget, a $2.17 million, or 2.99%, hike from the present year’s budget.

The education budget now goes to the mayor and Board of Aldermen, where most Board of Education members acknowledged that more cuts are expected.

“I don’t think anyone on this board thinks that those kinds of reductions are in the best interest of the school system and the kids,” said Board of Education Chair Mark Holden, “but we need to meet whatever budget we have, and, frankly, based on what has been in the newspaper, it appears that 2.99% is a bit aggressive. I do think this is lowest responsible request we can make.”

Holden is referring to comments from Mayor Mark Lauretti, who recently stated that he would not grant the Board of Education any increase, forcing the school district to function at the same budget number as the 2018-19 fiscal year, until the board and superintendent prove they can better manage their funds.

The Board of Education had spent two meetings last month examining the overall numbers — including what the school budget would be just maintaining current service levels, before adding in requests made by program directors and principals.

Just remaining at current service levels would increase the 2019-20 operating budget to an estimated $75,590,802, a $2,890,802, or 3.98%, increase. The requests from the program directors and principals would add an additional $2,221,969, or 3.06% hike, on top of the number just to maintain present operating standards. In all, if Clouet and the Board of Education came forward with that total number, the request to the mayor’s office and Board of Aldermen would call for a school budget increase of some 7% over last fiscal year.

“I think this is a strong 2.99% budget,” said Clouet, “and it meets what you asked us to do.”

Yolish said, as a former teacher herself, she opposed the large number of cuts to staff and felt that there are other areas that could have been reduced in order to prevent so many losses.

“I am not for cutting teachers,” said board member Amanda Kilmartin, “but I feel you (Clouet) did a good job with this budget, but we are where we are.”

Board member Kate Kutash called the budget cuts “sickening” but felt that little choice remained.

“I reluctantly, as an educator myself, … recommend that we go along with superintendent’s budget,” added board Vice Chair Thomas Minotti.

With more than 80% of the overall budget allotted for salaries and benefits, Clouet said the most efficient way to reduce the increase was the removal of 14.5 full-time teachers, which equates to $1,160,000 in reduced cost under certified salaries.

Clouet said that the administration plans to offer a retirement package that, if enough employees take advantage, it could provide savings that could be used to retain some teachers.

Another $1,155,783 in reductions come from the court-ordered settlement between the city and Board of Education over the bus transportation. The city will take over operation of the student transportation beginning with the next school year, and at an agreed upon cost of $3.15 million, a significant drop from the $4.3-million deal with Durham during the present school year.

Two other areas of savings could come in recommended purchases of textbooks and computer equipment. Clouet budgeted $338,632 for textbook purchases and $353,585 for computer equipment, but the administration has requested that the city purchase those items.

brian.gioiele@hearst.com