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Smithtown schools look at worst cuts scenario

Smithtown High School East. (Feb. 20, 2012)

Smithtown High School East. (Feb. 20, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Smithtown schools could save more than $2 million next year by cutting staff and curtailing programs such as physical education, summer reading classes and after-school activities, officials say.

The hypothetical cuts -- discussed by the school board during a budget workshop Tuesday night -- showed how painful it will be to close a projected $4.4 million deficit without piercing the state tax cap, Superintendent Anthony Annunziato said.

"We're between a rock and a hard place," he told board members and about 30 residents. "We take no joy in any of this."

Annunziato had estimated that increases in expenses such as salaries, health insurance and special education would hike spending by 5.54 percent, to $227.3 million next year, without budget cuts. Revenue is projected to go up 3.5 percent, to $222.8 million, unless Smithtown pierces the state cap on tax-levy increases.

The district faces a 2.39 percent state aid cut under the budget proposed in January by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Annunziato said he hopes state lawmakers restore at least some of the aid during budget deliberations. State legislators expect to pass a budget this week.

"Hopefully, we'll get something," Annunziato said in an interview after the meeting. "I don't know if we'll get it all."

Annunziato outlined cuts totaling $2.6 million by excising the equivalent of nine full-time staff, and reducing summer reading programs, textbook purchases and BOCES payments. The plan would include cutting after-school co-curricular programs in half and shifting sixth-grade gym classes from five days a week to every other day.

Smithtown Teachers' Association president Laura Spencer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

An additional $1.7 million in cuts could be achieved by trimming late buses and band and theater programs, and eliminating co-curricular programs, Annunziato said.

Taxes would have to go up by 4.7 percent to wipe out the deficit without cutting services, school officials said. Under the state tax cap law, Smithtown would be allowed to raise taxes by 3.72 percent without exceeding the cap, they said.

Annunziato said the district could consider reducing bus service, but transportation cuts would have to be approved by a public referendum. "That's something that we're going to have to consider at some point," he said. "It's a significant savings."

Smithtown voters in May 2011 approved a plan to save $800,000 in busing costs, but the referendum was overturned by another vote four months later.

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