Jul 26, 2014
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Huntington Schools Bracing for Budget Squeeze

Board votes to plan for state property tax cap.

Huntington Schools Bracing for Budget Squeeze Huntington Schools Bracing for Budget Squeeze Huntington Schools Bracing for Budget Squeeze Huntington Schools Bracing for Budget Squeeze

Expecting political leaders in Albany to keep their campaign pledges, the voted Monday night to begin planning next year's budget based on a 2 percent property tax cap.

The impact on schools is expected to be extensive. During the discussion of other possible budget scenarios, David H. Grackin, assistant superintendent for finance and management, said such a cap could lead to the elimination of 68 of the approximately 435 teachers currently employed.

A 7.5 percent tax increase would be required to keep the current spending continued intact, Grackin said. With a 2 percent cap, he said, a house valued at $4,500 would see a tax increased of about $180. Grackin cited large increases in pension and health care costs as significant budgetary issues. But also damaging to the budget will be the end of federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is expected to end July 1. The district received more than $1.4 million from the federal stimulus program.

"We don't know about state aid. State aid is expected to be flat but could change in the middle of January," Grackin said.  "The state has a $9 billion deficit, most of which is Medicaid and education funding. Chances are there will be a diminution in aid."

He said he expects that the legislature and the governor "will be wrangling over this for the next few months. We would like to know what that number is in April to present the budget to voters" for a vote in May.

Superintendent John J. Finello said, "The governor-elect said he was advocating for a 2 percent tax cap, as did other politicians. It is confirmed that GOP has regained the control of the state senate and the  likelihood of looking at a tax cap looks more real each day."

Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo as well as numerous others, such as Assemb. James Conte, R-Huntington Station, campaigned for tax caps of varying levels. During Monday night's meeting, those campaign promises were cited several times.

"Whether we hate or not, the number that is likely to be forced on us is the 2 percent increase," board member Richard McGrath said. "It's going to happen in Albany."

Board president Bill Dwyer and others agreed that they preferred to prepare now for the worst projections, saying that "it would be easier to put stuff back" if the budget cuts aren't as severe as expected.

When board member Emily Rogan asked him for specific ideas, Dwyer replied that possibiilities included, "Reducing classroom aides or if a teaching position opens up, you don't fill it," a response that brought some expressions of disbelief and laughter from the audience of about 60 people.

Board vice president John Paci was most outspoken on the need to find savings now, and cited contract costs as a source of budget difficulties and said negotiation and givebacks have to be part of any budget solution.

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