School budget recommendation arrives next week

There were just a few hints at Monday’s Rochester Board of Education meeting about where cuts will and won’t be made for the 2012-13 school year.

Nothing is official yet. But Assistant Superintendent for Business Daniel Romzek indicated it’s unlikely that media specialists, learning consultants and LC para-educators will be on the chopping block as the board decides how to cut $3.5 to $6.1 million from next year’s budget.

On Monday, Romzek presented a list of non-prioritized potential budget reductions that total over $9 million. Cutting all of it would wipe out the district’s operating shortfall for next year. But board members have said they want to use a combination of cuts and the district’s fund balance to balance the budget.

The administration will present its preliminary budget recommendation May 7. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 18.

“We don’t anticipate including media specialists, learning consultants and para-educators on that list next week,” Romzek said. “It doesn’t mean they’re off the table. It just means we don’t anticipate having to get to that level. …

“I know I’m taking a risk here saying that out loud,” he continued. “The consistent message we’ve heard is please try to preserve the media specialists, learning consultants and para-educators. … I hope that’s somewhat of a sigh of relief to people.”

In response to a question, Romzek said the top tier of recommended cuts, which will be unveiled next Monday, “does include many of the things that the board has already acted on, or are pretty straightforward.”

The non-prioritized list includes elimination of the police liaison program, a reduction in the number of counselors and teachers, eliminating middle-school sports, and reducing the subsidy of the athletic department.

“What this would mean is our athletic programs would have to look at how they’re spending,” Romzek said. “You’ve told us you don’t support passing those costs along to parents.”

Trustee Lisa Nowak asked the community to take a look at the potential cost-cutting list.

“If we implement all of these things, we have no financial problem,” she said. “I think this board has decided that we’re not ready to pull the trigger on all of these things. … They’re big, big changes.”

Parent Elizabeth Witten asked the board to present the public with a balanced budget option.

“For too many years we’ve relied on the fund (balance) and we’ve said we’re going to dip in one more time,” she said.  “How many teachers can we afford; what can’t we afford? Give parents the entire information we need. …

“Will we come kicking and screaming to the school board? Yes, we will. But it is time to bite the bullet.”

Parent Jill Pesci said she was “very disturbed” by the list of potential cuts and asked how parents could have more input. Citing the recent death of a student, she said the district needs all the counselors it has. And with a daughter entering seventh grade in the fall, she doesn’t want to see middle-school sports eliminated.

When asked what other things could be cut, Pesci, who teaches in another district, said professional development time could be reconfigured to save money. “As a parent, there are too many professional development days,” she said.

Romzek cautioned that the state hasn’t yet passed its budget for the next fiscal year, so school aid has not yet been set. The governor has made his proposal, and differing bills have passed the state House and Senate that could have big impact on the district’s budget.

“So we’ve got three pots that we’re looking at, three budget scenarios that we’re looking at for next year,” he said. “Things were happening literally while I was building this presentation.” A state revenue estimating conference scheduled for May 16 may get things moving, he added.

Among the proposals are what Romzek called “drastic changes” in retiree health care. “What it could do is make a large number of our employees choose to retire,” he said.

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