Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has proposed a budget for the July 2009-June 2010 fiscal year that funds the school system at exactly the same level as this year. That's $69.3 million for the school district, which is $3.9 million (5.61%) less than the School Board says they would need to avoid any cuts in salaries or services, because of contracted increases over the current year.
It's a quirk of our town's system that the Common Council and the Mayor set the bottom line for how much money the school system will get, but the Board of Education has the decision-making power on how to spend it. In this budget season, it's been clear that the schools would not have the full 5.61% increase that they would need to avoid cuts. In spite of the fact that it appears likely that the state will give Middletown the same educational funding as last year (remember that flat funding means cuts), the city expects to receive significantly less state funding for other areas of the town budget, and so it has to dig deeper in making cuts and raising revenue, just to provide the schools with funding that equals this year.
In recognition of the current fiscal mood, the School Board proposed just a 2% increase at their March meeting, finding savings primarily by cutting 13 elementary teaching positions. But now that a 0% increase is on the table, it seems likely that more will have to be cut - in the Mayor's budget, that cut would equal another $1.37 million beyond what's already been cut.
The Mayor's proposed budget is not the final word -- it's the Common Council that formally adopts the city budget, and the Mayor's power at that point is restricted to breaking a 6/6 tie, or vetoing items that can withstand any effort to override. But the Mayor's budget is a statement that he believes that the schools can find more savings, and that they should, based on the overall situation in the city. The Mayor has made it clear that he thinks the savings can be found by re-opening negotiations with the unions, including teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators. The unions have also suggested cuts that might be made, although some of those were already made to achieve the 2% increase in the last round, such as cutting four "Pre-K to 12th grade" supervisors.
So what happens next?
•The Common Council is in the process of reviewing the Mayor's proposed budget. They will have a hearing at City Hall with the Superintendent and Board of Education (typically represented by the Chair) on Monday, April 20th at 6 pm. That's the forum where Council members question the school district about how they justify their funding request and where they might make additional cuts. The hearing will be open to the public but will not have any opportunity for public comment. It will also be available for viewing on Comcast Channel 19.
•The Board of Ed has their regular meeting on the next day, Tuesday, April 21, at 7 pm. In a recent conversation with Superintendent Michael Frechette, I understood that the Board would not typically propose additional cuts at this point. Instead, they would wait until the final budget is voted by the Common Council, as the bottom line can easily go up or down from the Mayor's proposal. On my part, I would be surprised if there wasn't some discussion of the options, as it comes on the heels of the hearing with the Council.
•On April 28th, beginning at 7 pm, the general public will be able to comment to the Common Council on all aspects of the city budget (not just schools) at City Hall. The Council has the power to add additional public hearings if they think there is a need.
•By charter, the Common Council is required to pass the final budget for the city by May 15th. The Mayor then has 5 days to veto, followed by 10 days that the Council would have to override a veto with a 2/3 vote (9 of 12 members).
•After May 15th, the Board of Ed will have to adjust their spending plan to whatever amount the Common Council provides. If the Mayor's cut holds, the Board of Ed would then have to find an additional $1.37 million in cuts.
Late May should be a busy time for the Superintendent and the Board of Ed, since in addition to revising their budget, they expect to receive the recommendations from JCJ Architecture about any short-term need to move students between schools. Any plans to cut teachers and change overall class size should be part of that calculation.