SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – A projected multimillion-dollar deficit will force the Lakeland Central School District to strongly consider cutting programs and staff in the 2013-14 budget, Superintendent George Stone said.
“We have cut in the past few years much of the low-hanging fruit that exists,” Stone said at Thursday night’s preliminary budget hearing. “Basically, as a business, personnel is 70 to 80 percent of our business. So we are talking about potential significant cuts to staffing and other programs unless we can continue to find creative ways to solve our budget issues.”
Stone said the district has fallen on hard financial times because of unfunded mandates from the state, reduced state aid, increased district contributions for pensions and health care, limits on revenue, and increasing fuel and energy costs.
“Even the greatest financial wizards can’t prevent the inevitable,” said Stone, who projected the district’s deficit for 2013-14 at $2.3 million to $3.3 million.
Stone said the district intends to stretch its budget to the limit and will ask for the maximum property tax levy increase the law will allow. New York implemented a 2 percent cap on the annual tax levy increase in 2011.
While not ideal, Stone said, giving employees incentives to retire could help the district curb its costs.
“There are a significant number of employees that are eligible to retire,” Stone said. “These are obviously master educators, dedicated employees. We wish there were other ways that we can solve these problems. But the fact is that last year’s incentive saved us $1 million. We need to try and do even better if we can this year.”
Freshman sports teams and BOCES' walkabout were mentioned by Stone as programs that may not be financially viable for the district anymore.
Stone said security upgrades remain a high priority in the wake of last month’s Newtown school shooting, but budget restrictions will limit how much the schools can actually do.
“Safety and security of students and staff will always be my number one concern,” he said. “Obviously attempting to make major security upgrades in a budget that has a deficit of this number is not going to be something that we can easily do.”
Lakeland’s Board of Education will continue the 2013-14 budget discussion Feb. 7 at the Administration Building, 1086 E. Main St., Shrub Oak.