Friday, December 23, 2011

Even I'm Getting Tired of Me

My letter to the IJ today.

With rollover costs so high, many small upstate schools must cut nearly $1 million to fit within the state's 2 percent tax cap. Even given larger class sizes and reduced staffs, most face cuts that represent 5 to 10 percent of their budgets.

How do you cut $1 million? Look for things that aren't mandated. Cutting the entire athletics program, minus required physical education classes, gains you $150,000.

Most small districts have already cut electives and AP courses, but they could let classroom teachers teach music and art and save $100,000. Small districts don't have assistant superintendents, but suppose you could cut a principal and have just one person supervise two buildings? That's another $100,000 in salary plus benefits.

Feeding kids isn't mandated, so lose the cafeteria. Maybe you'll gain another $100,000. And kindergarten isn't required in New York. Release three teachers, save on all that construction paper, and stop heating and lighting those classrooms. You might save $200,000.

All those cuts, and you've only gained $650,000! And what kind of school do you have? One without athletics, art and music specials, lunch or kindergarten.

Here's an alternative: Ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support the Regents' proposal for distribution of funds to high-needs schools. Demand the mandate relief he promised with the tax cap. Without that, some of your biggest cost drivers — special education, testing, paperwork, labor — remain untouchable.

Kathy Zahler

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