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Schools propose tax hike, layoffs for 2011-12

The Huntington School District is considering a 2 percent property tax hike and eliminating 68 teacher positions as officials prepare its 2011-12 budget.

The plan is a response to Gov.-Elect Andrew Cuomo's push for state lawmakers to approve a 2 percent cap on yearly increases in property taxes by school districts and other local governments.

"A 2 percent property tax increase [budget] would be approximately $5.075 million less than the continuation budget," David Grackin, assistant superintendent for finance, said Tuesday.

To maintain staffing levels and programs in the current $108,786,539 budget, Grackin said residents would have to endure a 7.52 percent hike in their property tax bills.

He attributed the costs to increases in teachers' salaries, retirement contributions, an anticipated cut or freeze in state aid and the end of federal stimulus money that was used to save some teacher and administrator jobs a couple of years ago. The district received more than $1.4 million from the federal stimulus program, which ends July 1. The district has 435 teachers.

"At this point in the year we have not learned anything about where our state aid would be for the '11-12 school year," Grackin said. "State aid is roughly 10 percent of our revenue stream. I made the assumption that it would stay the same."

On Monday, the board decided in light of campaign promises made by Cuomo it would be best to use a worst-case scenario number because it can be adjusted later.

"The number that is likely to be forced on us is a 2 percent increase," board member Richard McGrath said. "It's going to happen in Albany."

Other spending cuts were discussed, such as midyear cuts and requests for contract givebacks from the unions. State-mandated programs, such as special education services, support for English language learners and physical education activities cannot be touched. But electives at the high school level, athletics and after-school activities are on the chopping block.

Grackin said next the administrative staff, principals and directors in the district will come up with a suggested list of cuts, which will be put to the school board in the new year, with a vote in May.

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