A $50.68 million 2009-10 budget that raises the tax levy 3.1 percent — meaning a tax increase of 1.9 percent in the city of Gloversville — was adopted Wednesday by the Gloversville Board of Education.
The proposed budget, up only $2,600 over the current edition, was balanced largely by cutting 34 teachers, 16 other staffers, six vacant teaching positions and one administrative vacancy.
Among other cuts that helped the administration and school board close a $2.4 million gap between revenues and expenses was the elimination of alpine skiing and eight coaching positions.
“This budget was very stressful; there were a lot of nights of lost sleep,” said board President Perry Paul, citing the hard decision to eliminate so many positions.
“To sit there knowing there was nothing I could do about it ...” he said of the cuts, which he called devastating. “It was no fun to cut people’s jobs knowing their families are greatly affected.”
But, he said, spending mandates imposed by the state and insufficient state funding to pay for them left the board no other option.
Despite holding the tax levy increase to about 3 percent, Paul said he cannot predict voter sentiments when they go to the polls May 19.
“I hope voters realize we’ve done the best we could while still providing children with a proper education,” he said.
As the election approaches, Paul said he is already pondering next year’s budget and the possibility that the district will face a similar situation.
The budget proposal raises the tax levy, which includes state STAR revenue, from $12.07 million to $12.45 million, an increase of $377,000.
Tax rates are calculated and adopted in August.
In the face of challenging circumstances, Paul said that over the past four years the board has held the tax levy increase to a combined 12.4 percent.
But taxpayer advocate Jack Kinzie, a frequent critic of the board, said voters played a role in holding the levy increase to 12.4 percent. If several budgets had not been rejected, forcing revisions, Kinzie said, the levy would have jumped more than 17 percent in that time period.
Last year, Kinzie advocated defeating the budget. This time, he said, he will stay clear of that debate. He said he shares in the regret that so many jobs had to be eliminated.
“I wish they had made small cuts each and every year and avoided this decision,” Kinzie said.
Pat Donovan, president of the 286-member Gloversville Teachers Association, said the faculty is disappointed by the cuts and is preparing for larger class sizes.
Under provisions of the GTA contract, a kindergarten class may have up to 22 children; grades one to three up to 27; and grades four to five up to 30. Middle school and high school classes are limited to 31.
Contrary to prior reports, Donovan said, the cuts are eliminating some veteran staff, including four with tenure, one only months away from retirement and two others with more than 10 years with the district. Of the younger teachers, she said seven are expecting tenure at the close of this school year.
She said it was difficult to have to explain to veteran teachers what they have to do to apply for unemployment benefits and cope with the loss of health insurance.
“They’re upset and I’m upset for them,” she said.
Donovan lamented that the GTA was cast in a negative light after district officials said the union refused to switch health insurance policies, a move that was expected to save $1.8 million.
She said the union has been portrayed in news stories as “the bad guys.” But, she said, “we are taxpayers, and we’re looking at it from their point of view.”
If the two sides can “work together to find some creative solutions,” Donovan said, there might yet be hope that some of the targeted positions can be restored by September.
Paul did not mention the possibility of restoring jobs, but he expressed hope “that everyone will do their best to work together” to address the challenges presented by a reduced staff.
“We have great people,” said Paul, saying he is certain that “they will come together to provide a good education for the children of Gloversville.”