ROTTERDAM -- While the Mohonasen Central School District is set to preserve its Pinewood Elementary orchestra program, district officials still plan to cut nearly 20 staff positions, raising elementary class sizes next year.
Superintendent Shannon Shine on Tuesday said the district will have to move forward with nearly all of the cuts he proposed last month, including the elimination of six elementary school teacher positions and three teaching positions at the secondary level.
The cuts come as the district grapples with a $2 million budget gap caused in part by increasing prescription drug costs and the district's heavy reliance on reserve spending in recent years. Final state aid numbers that lifted Mohonasen's foundation aid funding by just 1 percent did little to stave off district officials' worst fears.
“Other than [the elementary orchestra teacher] everything else that was proposed is occurring because foundation aid came in so abysmally,” Shine said in a Tuesday interview.
Scores of students, parents and alumni turned out to a school board meeting last month to implore the school board to preserve the district's cherished music program at all costs. Ultimately, the only change to the proposed cuts was sparing the full-time orchestra instructor at Pinewood Elementary, but another partial music position will be cut. Without that partial position, the district will have to curtail the number of small-group music lessons in can offer across most grades.
“We want to make it as least impactful on students as possible,” Shine said.
The cuts to elementary staffing will cause the district to increase its average class size, which at the elementary level will rise from 24 students this school year to 26.6 students next school. Class sizes in sixth grade will rise to an average of nearly 29 students.
“The biggest effect bar none that stands out is the significant increase to elementary class size, it's tough,” Shine said. “It's very challenging, especially when the needs of students have increased.”
While a last-minute effort to rally support to pressure lawmakers into boosting Mohonasen's funding was enough to draw attention from both state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, it still wasn't enough to spare multiple positions.
The district's foundation aid, the core source of state education aid, rose just over $135,000 compared to the current year. That does little to help Mohonasen officials cover a $2 million deficit.
Shine said that while about half of the 19 eliminated positions will be covered by retirements, as many as 10 district staff members will have to be laid off.
The staffing cuts include six elementary teachers, three high school teachers, two administrators, a half-time art teacher, two security monitors, one IT specialist, one auto mechanic, one central office account clerk and at least one building cleaner. Even with the staff cuts, the district still plans to raise the tax levy by 3.8 percent, the most allowed on a simple majority vote under the state tax cap, and spend about $400,000 in reserves.
The school board will take up a final budget proposal during its April 8 meeting, with a public vote on the budget scheduled for May 21.