As tax laws, mandate relief, and declining enrollment hang above their heads, the Fairport board of education is faced with the task of explaining budget cuts, including the elimination of more than 55 staff and a number of K-12 elective courses, to the public.
The district announced its plans to cut 35 full-time teachers from the payroll to help bridge the district’s $4.2 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year.
“Loss of staff is something I’d like to better understand,” said parent Erin Owens, who has two children in the district.
As it stands, three-quarters of Fairport’s $106 million budget consists of employee salaries and benefits. While eliminating staff may have been the quickest way to cut costs, Superintendent Dr. Jon Hunter said this was no easy decision for the board.
“I don’t think you could ever take the emotion out of it because it’s people, and when somebody loses their job, that hurts,” said Hunter. “What doesn’t change is the gap of $4.2 million.”
He added that the board has the responsibility of creating a budget that is sustainable without putting an undue burden on district taxpayers.
To raise, or not to raise
Although Fairport is losing $2.4 million in state aid as job stimulus funding is used up, Hunter said that this is not what’s hitting hardest.
“It’s not about state aid right now,” he said. “It’s about the tax cap and mandate relief — those are the controlling forces.”
The levy limit, also referred to as the 2 percent property tax “cap,” is a number that is calculated based on different figures, and in many cases this yields a number that is higher than 2 percent. State law allows school districts to raise its levy limit if a “super majority” of more than 60 percent of voters approve it.
This was a topic that students discussed last week at the high school, where more than 130 met for a series of informal meetings to talk about the budget cuts and possible ways to help save jobs. By getting more support of to raise the levy limit, students said they hope to help save jobs and programs at risk of being cut.
"We meed as many people to vote for the tax levy increase as possible," said FHS senior Kyle King.
Fairport's total budget will be approximately $106 million, and $60 million of this will come from local taxes. At their meeting last Friday, students said they want to convince the board to raise taxes more than 2 percent.
But this is not something the district says it will look into — at least for this year.
“That’s not the option, but it is certainly part of our plan over the next two to three years,” said Hunter.
Page 2 of 2 - The district currently has about $15 million in reserve funding that can legally be used to mitigate taxes. It also has $20 million in its reserves, but state law requires that this be used for capital projects, technology, and transportation costs. Next year, the district plans to use one-third of these reserves to lessen the blow of taxes.
The last four years have shown that enrollment has been decreasing at the elementary level, and this is another reason the district must consolidate its resources, Hunter explained.
This year’s graduating senior class has 563 students, while the entering kindergarten class has just 406.
“When there’s declining enrollment, those horrible decisions about loss of personell need to be made. When there’s horrible economic conditions, then you add to even more difficult decisions.”
What to keep
On a larger scale, Hunter said that next year’s spending priorities will be focused on creating a stable budget and common core curriculum.
“We want that strong core and sustainable budget before we say we need more from our community.”
While many parents say they understand the district’s need to make cuts to stay afloat, losing non-core elective classes like art, music, and gym in the process is difficult to watch, Owens explained.
“We can really be losing a very important creative and intellectual piece if we go right to those sectors,” she said.
If you go
The board of education will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 15 with public comment from 6:30-7 p.m. at Room 512 of Fairport High School.