The Orchard Park School Board faced sobering news this week when it learned that 14.5 full-time equivalent jobs would be cut and intramurals and some co-curricular clubs would face the budget ax in order to close a $2.2 million budget deficit for next year.
The district’s 2014-15 recommended budget is now pegged at $88.41 million, calling for a 2.76 percent spending increase. That would keep the spending plan under the 4.22 percent tax levy cap set by the state.
Still, the news did not make anyone happy at School Board meeting Tuesday. A crowd of about 95 people listened to the latest budget draft news, but didn’t offer much comment. The administration last week spoke with staff that could be affected by the proposed job cuts.
Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Petrus indicated afterward that it was the hardest budget the district has had to craft in about the last five years.
“It’s absolutely alarming to see the positions up (for cuts),” Superintendent Matthew P. McGarrity said.
Board Vice President David Nielsen didn’t mince words.
“We shouldn’t be cutting academic programs at the expense of sports,” he said, noting that he felt high school clubs and sports were basically left intact at the expense of academic offerings at the elementary level. “Who cares when the academic program begins to look like Buffalo’s?”
Yet, both Petrus and McGarrity still held out hope that more state aid will come to the district beyond what it is slated to receive.
“‘We’re very hopeful we’ll receive more than a $20,000 increase in state aid and be able to look at some restorations,” Petrus said.
The board and McGarrity repeatedly urged residents and faculty to contact state lawmakers to urge more state money and push for the release of GAP elimination funds.
The budget plan keeps class sizes at the current board guidelines, but includes a laundry list of recommended cuts.
At the high school: Four teaching positions in art, music, technology and business would be eliminated; a .5 physical education teacher would be reduced, along with the elimination of a clerical position, scrapping intramurals, eliminating overtime for monitors and not replacing marching band uniforms.
The Middle School cuts include eliminating a Spectrum gifted and talented position, a computer teacher position, a .5 physical education teacher, a part-time teacher aide and reducing co-curricular clubs and eliminating the summer transition program.
Elementary school level cuts include eliminating two Spectrum teaching positions, creating a differentiated instruction teacher leader position, eliminating two librarians and a classroom teacher, reducing summer reading program and running the Destination Imagination program through community education and eliminating yearbook and student council co-curricular clubs and stipends.
Petrus also highlighted a number of cost-savings initiatives and noted the district will apply $3.25 million in fund balance and another $575,000 in reserves to help bridge the budget gap.
“Nobody wants to cut anything,” Board member Elizabeth Quinlan said. “This is awful. Let’s hope we got some restored aid so some of these cuts don’t have to happen.”
Board member Anthony Agnello noted the budget pain, but urged the community to consider partnering in a public/private initiative to allow for co-curricular activities, similar to what occurred in the Clarence School District. He indicated that a community outreach effort may be forthcoming.
Since Orchard Park had to cut its freshman football team three years ago, money has been privately raised through donations to the Quaker Athletic Booster Club to keep the team going. Three fundraisers to help in that effort already are being planned, Agnello said.
The board next meets March 25 and again could review budget modifications, with a target date of April 8 to adopt the district’s budget. The latest budget adoption could occur is April 25.