By Mallie Kim
Three Village Central School District plans to cut 30 full-time positions, primarily instructional staff, according to Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.
The cuts are a result of declining enrollment — district data shows the student population dropped by more than 1,500 over the last decade — and the need to stay within the 2.65% tax levy increase cap the district has calculated based on state regulations for the 2023-24 budget.
“It’s unavoidable,” Scanlon said at a March 8 Board of Education meeting, noting some 75% of the school budget is payroll. “We simply don’t have enough money to sustain where we’re at right now, financially.”
Scanlon said that cuts would not lead to larger class sizes or affect programs already in place, but rather bring staffing more in line with student population levels. Excess positions will be both in elementary and secondary, he said, adding that instructional staff will be most affected because they make up the majority of employees, and the administrative team already made cuts last year.
The meeting was a step in the process of developing next year’s school budget in advance of the May 16 community vote, which will take place in Ward Melville High School’s gymnasium.
Cost increases due to inflation have added budget challenges for the school district, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson. The part of the tax levy pegged to inflation can only increase by 2% but inflation in the United States at the end of last year was 6.5%.
“It’s killing us, everything is costing so much more,” Carlson said. “We’re really going to learn the difference between ‘we need something’ and ‘we want something.’”
But, Carlson said, at this point that won’t mean taking away aspects of Three Village that make it a desirable district. These include special education services, a topic that often comes up in budget conversations since the district educates students with special needs in-house as much as possible. According to Carlson, this makes the district’s per-pupil cost appears to be higher than neighboring districts, because costs associated with sending students to BOCES programs are not figured into a district’s per-pupil expenditure numbers, while costs for in-district services are.
Carlson said at the meeting he is often asked why Three Village provides more special education services than legally mandated.
“Well, of course we do,” he said. “We give more than is mandated to all of our students,” adding that pre-K, sports, clubs and universal busing are also not mandated. “I don’t think we’d be proud of ourselves as a district if all we did was the bare minimum.”
The board is advocating with local politicians for the inflation-based cap to reflect real world inflation, Scanlon said, out of concern the rates might continue to soar.
“We are lucky for next year where it’s not going to affect programs,” he said. “But if it continues at this [rate], it will.”
The district is also seeking additional revenue streams, according to Scanlon, like renting out portable buildings to BOCES and taking on more tuition-based students from other districts. Carlson added that the district would raise rates for after-school care, enrichment programs and facility rentals for private programs.
“We certainly have not kept pace with inflation over the years,” Carlson said, adding the district has seen these programs as a kind of community service. “But those items, too, are costing more and more and more.”
The budget conversation comes just over a month after the district was labeled “susceptible to fiscal stress” by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D). Carlson said this designation did not come as a surprise and reflects too little money in district reserves. Three Village spent nearly $7 million in reserve funds to keep schools open full time during the 2020-21 school year, with a virtual option.
Carlson expressed pride that Three Village was one of the few districts nationwide to maintain full-time, in-person learning during the pandemic, and said refilling the coffers is a priority. He added the district is in the middle of a plan to replenish this rainy day fund over several years.
“We would love to be in a position where hopefully nothing like that ever happens again, but if it does, we could do that again if we wanted to,” the deputy superintendent said.
The board opened its meeting with a moment of silence to remember R.C. Murphy Junior High student Qamat Shah, who was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike on Thursday evening, March 2. He was 14.