Commack parents have sent a clear message to school officials: Keeping teachers in the classroom is important, and they might be willing to pay more to do so.
More than 150 district residents attended Commack Superintendent Donald James' special community budget input meeting at Burr Intermediate School on Monday night. Many wanted to know how they could save the district's teachers from falling victim to $4.7 million in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year.
"The message I'm trying to send tonight is to go back to the Board and say at the next budget presentation what we can do, what can we propose to save our teachers' jobs. That is what is going to educate our kids," said resident Katherine Finkin.
James has recommended a $170 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, representing a 2.6 percent tax levy increase estimated to raise the average homeowner's taxes by $239 to $258 yearly.
Under this proposed budget, school officials are considering laying off 40 to 60 teachers, one administrator, two secretaries, six custodians and making an additional $700,000 in cuts. The suggested cuts include the elimination of assistant coaches for 16 sports teams, elimination of the varsity swim teams, and elimination of a list of co-curricular clubs and honor societies.
"How are we firing 50 teachers, raising class sizes and not going to the bone everywhere else? This is a school district, it's about educating our children," said one man, who claimed to work in public education for 16 years. "We need to look at what a 4.1 percent budget increase means for our community."
His comments were answered by resounding applause, and partial standing ovation.
The superintendent's proposed $170 million budget is significantly less than the district's maximum allowable within Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new property tax cap legislation. Commack school district, once calculating in exemptions and growth factors under a state formula, could raise the tax levy by 4.1 percent, or a $172 million budget, and be under the tax cap.
Several parents said they want to know what a 4.1 percent tax levy increase would mean for Commack schools next year, specificly how many teachers and programs could be saved. James did not have those numbers readily available.
"I don't think it's a secret, and you may not like me saying this, but there are other people who don't want us to go over percent, nevermind 3 percent or 4 percent. That is what we are hearing," the superintendnet said.
According to the district's budget packet, handed out at various budget presentations and workshops, a 4.1 percent budget would not prevent cuts. School officials calculate it would take a 6.32 percent tax levy increase, or $174 million budget, to keep all existing programs.
Parents suggested multiple cuts to generate further savings within the school district such as eliminating the NWEA assessments, ending the online Castle Learning program to no longer sending out printed district calendars.
If the district were to put forth a $174 million budget, it would exceed the tax cap and would need 60 percent of voters' approval to pass. The average homeowner's yearly school taxes would increase by $580 to $626, according to the district.
James announced March 16 that he, along with the central administration staff, will be taking. At that time, he encouraged the teachers union and other bargaining units to sit down with the board to find ways to preserve jobs, through attrition or renegotiation of contracts.
The superintendent announced Monday that all of the school district's bargaining units have stepped forward to talk about possible renegotiation of contracts.
The Commack Board of Education will hold its next budget workshop 8p.m. Thursday at
Tell us, would you be willing to approve a 4.1 percent tax levy increase, or $172 million budget, to prevent teacher layoffs?