The Scotia-Glenville Teachers Association this week blasted Superintendent Susan Swartz for suggesting a hard pay freeze for the 2013-2014 school year to save jobs as the Board of Education considers submitting a budget that exceeds the property tax cap.
The district has been trying to trim roughly $1.3 million from its proposed spending plan to get below the district’s 4.5 percent tax levy cap. Maintaining all the programs and staff in this year’s budget would increase spending from $47.8 million this year to $49.9 million next year. However, revenues would increase by barely $1 million if the tax rate were increased to the cap.
Swartz has proposed at least two rounds of cuts to start with, which would trim about $750,000 from the budget, not enough to bridge the gap. She also called for a hard pay freeze — meaning no cost-of-living or step increases for all district employees. This would save about $786,000, according to Swartz.
Fifth-grade teacher Jeffrey Denney, the negotiator representing the teachers union in the latest round of contract talks, said faculty members were surprised about the district’s request March 18 for a hard pay freeze. The union and school officials hadn’t officially started talks on a new contract. The existing pact expires June 30, but by state law its provisions remain in effect until a new deal is ratified by both sides.
Denney said the teachers have worked with the district to contain costs including giving up a day’s pay this year.
He also said that Scotia-Glenville teachers are among the lowest-paid in the region. But a survey by the Capital District Business Review ranked the $59,121 median salary at 31st out of 93 area school districts.
Denney asked school officials to respect the process and not make any public comments about areas of the contract that have yet to be discussed.
“We will not entertain any such proposals until the negotiating process has begun,” he said.
SGTA President Eric DeCarlo reiterated his position that the board is to blame for putting out years of relatively low tax levy increases of below 2 percent when they knew the tax cap was coming, federal stimulus money was drying up and state aid was remaining flat.
“Who’s responsible for these layoffs and program cuts? They’re your actions,” he said.
Swartz divided her proposed cuts into several “tiers.”
Tier 1 reductions would trim $25,000 from the athletics budget, not replace two retiring elementary teachers and cut one literacy coach and eliminate various other positions district wide, totaling nearly three full-time equivalent employees. Total savings would be almost $400,000.
Tier 2 reductions would cut another $15,000 from athletics, reduce custodian substitutes, buildings and grounds summer help, summer curriculum planning days, a guidance counselor, gifted and talented teacher, business, technology and family and consumer science positions and late buses for a savings of about $350,000.
Taken together, these would drop the tax levy increase to 6.5 percent.
The board last week asked Swartz what Tier 3 would look like. Tier 3A would eliminate teaching assistant positions district wide. Tier 3B would reduce high school English teaching staff and a social worker, secretary and funding for clubs by another one-third. Tier 3C would eliminate a foreign language teaching position and eliminate all school funding for clubs.
If the district implemented all of these cuts — totaling about $1.27 million — it would eliminate more than 21 full-time equivalent positions, according to Swartz. And the district would still not be under the tax cap.
Swartz said she would try to find the remaining money somewhere, but not cut any more positions.
The board did not want her to cut any further.
Board member Colleen Benedetto said she wanted to stay with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 reductions and a 6.5 percent tax levy increase.
“I don’t want to go below that — now seeing the Tier 3 reductions,” she said.
A budget that exceeds the tax cap would require approval of 60 percent of voters.
In a straw poll, Andy Crapo was the only board member in favor of cutting further. Even the 4.5 percent tax cap, he noted, is a bigger increase than district residents will see in their paychecks.
The district will hold a public forum on the budget at 7 p.m. April 8. The board is expected to adopt the spending plan at 6:30 p.m. April 10.