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Tries Again

By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO — May 23, 2006 – Two days after the Monticello School District saw its budget fail for the second year in a row, a new budget was approved by the Board of Education to go up for a vote on June 20.
The new $63,254,365 budget is a reduction from the $64,141,695 budget which was voted down 783-687. The new budget is still a 5.66 percent increase over last year’s $59,957,405 budget and represents a 5.35 percent increase in the tax levy.
To cut down the proposed budget, the district eliminated the positions of four administrators – the foreign language coordinator, social studies department coordinator, a staff developer and a technology position. Patrick Michel, who will become the new superintendent of the district this summer, estimated the savings to the district at $425,000.
In addition, the revised state aid was $750,000 more than the school initially budgeted, according to Business Administrator Gladys Baxter. The district also cut $37,000 from its BOCES budget.
The board also rearranged its allocations for the transportation department. Three replacement bus purchases were eliminated. Instead, the board approved the purchase of a suburban bus and a wheelchair-accessible bus and put back up a proposition to buy four 72-passenger replacement buses at a cost of $376,000. The same proposition failed last week by a vote of 745-707.
Board members stressed that they would be replacing existing buses, including one that is off the road. The proposition, if passed, would add on to the estimated tax levy, although Baxter could not provide the exact increase.
Michel said the department heads who were laid off will be replaced by teachers who will do double-duty with a stipend that is considerably less expensive. But, he lamented, that extra responsibility wasn’t fair to them or the students.
If the new budget is defeated in June, the district would have to formulate an austerity budget and cut an estimated $1.2 million more, said Michel.
In the case of such an outcome, more than a thousand students would be forced to walk to school, primarily in Monticello. Furthermore, staff and non-mandated programs such as sports and music would be vulnerable to major cuts, said Michel.
Michel dealt with an austerity budget before at another district.
“I feel terrible,” he said.
If the budget is defeated again, Michel warned that “our programs will be left without leaders. Class sizes will increase significantly in the programs that we are cutting.”
Board member Robert Stewart proposed cutting the budget of the Board of Education (which totals approximately $11,000) by one-third, including expenses to attend conferences and seminars. Stewart said the cut should be done as a good faith measure.
However, most of the board disagreed with him. Richard Feller said the money spent on the board’s education is important to ensuring they do a job they volunteer for with no pay. Susan Horton, Robert Rosengard and Superintendent Eileen Casey all agreed.
But Stewart explained later that the board could equally educate itself from newsletters and other publications it receives. He also pointed out that Feller is involved with education at a state level and can also help out the district for free.
Board President Alyce Van Etten and board member John Pavese were absent.
The board will meet again tonight at 5 in the Robert Kaiser Middle School Library, then again on Thursday, June 1.

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