East Ramapo schools to cut all elementary art, music teachers; sports may be next
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The East Ramapo School Board Tuesday adopted a proposed budget that cuts the equivalent of about 60 positions, including all elementary school arts and music teachers and librarians, with the possibility of cutting 28 more jobs and all sports and clubs if the state Legislature doesn't approve an advance on funds expected from the state lottery next year.
"If the money does not come in, we will have to reduce staff," Superintendent Joel Klein said. "There are still major cuts in this budget."
Voters will head to the polls May 21 to weigh in on the plan and to vote for new board members in a School Board election in which six candidates are running for three open seats. A public hearing on the budget will take place May 7.
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Interim business official Anthony Cashara called the budget plan discussed Tuesday night -- a plan to spend about $210 million, reflecting an $18 million increase over the current school year's spending -- a realistic budget that sets the stage for a sustainable future for East Ramapo schools. A week ago, officials said they'd cut 52 positions, all junior varsity sports and some varsity sports programs.
"People left the meeting last year feeling that we had a balanced budget, then found out we did not," Cashara said Tuesday. "This is an accurate portrayal."
After Tuesday night's meeting, Cashara said officials had provided the state Education Department with a five-year budget plan.
Last week, Klein said East Ramapo officials were scrambling because the state Education Department had advised the district that uncertain lottery revenues could not be counted on in the budget. All school districts in New York receive lottery revenues. Essentially, the East Ramapo School District hopes to win legislative approval for a scheme that would allow the district to spend next year's revenues this year.
On Tuesday, officials clarified that they need to spell out how the hoped-for money from the lottery would be spent so that it is clear which programs and positions will be eliminated if the lottery funds do not come through. They also discovered that the district could request only $3.5 million from the lottery, instead of the initially projected $4.2 million.
The advance on lottery revenues would be authorized in a bill that district officials expect to be introduced before the Legislature by state Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange). Carlucci's office has been publicly quiet about the legislation. The senator's staff did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
If the advance does not come through the district will cut an additional:
• Four high school teachers
• Eight middle school teachers
• Two guidance counselors
• Eight nurses
• Six security guards
• All sports, including busing for sports
• All clubs
• Management Information System and BOCES computer
• Late bus runs
The district does have the support of the state Education Department in asking for the lottery advance.
The few parents who spoke during public comment portion of Tuesday night's meeting questioned the transparency of school board deliberations.
Carolyn Watson questioned the district's plan to provide art and music programs to elementary school students after the teaching positions are cut. In an exchange that has been uncommon in recent meetings, the board and officials answered the public's questions about the budget.
Officials said those plans are still under discussion but may include training other elementary school teachers and teaching the content during core curriculum times.
"You're presenting a budget to the board, and there's not clarity on some of this stuff," Watson told board members.
Before voting to adopt the budget proposal, board member Yonah Rothman said that the cuts were regrettable.
"I think it's still painful," Rothman said. "I think everyone on this board agrees with me ... we really hope we don't have to go to the additional cuts that we're looking at, if we don't get the spin-up."
The school district has run a substantial deficit in the last two school years. On Friday, School Board President Daniel Schwartz resigned his position, citing personal reasons. His was the third resignation this year. Two sitting members -- Nathan Losman and Moses Friedman -- are not running for re-election.