It looks to be another dire year for the Utica City School District as it faces about a $6.18 million deficit.
The good news? The proposed 2013-14 budget bridges the gap.
The bad news? It means cutting 88 positions — 54 of whom are teachers.
District Superintendent Bruce Karam presented his about $138 million proposed budget Tuesday night at a Board of Education meeting.
The proposed budget is about one-half percent, or $742,714, more than this year’s, and includes a 2 percent property tax increase. This would bring the deficit down to $5.6 million.
The deficit is due to significant rising costs, a planned charter school and insufficient state funding, Karam said.
“I tried to balance our needs with what taxpayers could afford, in light of the fact that the state is underfunding us with state aid,” he said. "There's nothing left to cut."
Last year, the district faced a similar deficit when about 150 positions were cut as well as funding to programs such as the Young Scholars Liberty Partnerships Program.
Though funding for many programs was not restored in the proposed 2013-14 budget, Karam said he needs one more year before he can start replacing those funds.
“Our intention all along was that we would try to restore funding to the Young Scholars program next year (2014-15),” he said.
This year, however, programs remained relatively untouched.
“We tried to keep all programs intact for the students,” said Maureen Albanese, district business official. “We had to lay off staff in order to keep those intact.”
Proposed position cuts include: 54 teachers, 4½ administrators, 11 teacher assistants, six custodial and trade, and 12½ clerical. Four of the 88 positions will be cut through attrition.
Other cost-saving measures include:
* Savings in gas and electric through conservation and more efficient equipment.
* Reductions in supplies and staff development.
* A decrease from seven to four curriculum team leaders at each middle school.
* Moving all cafeteria monitors to the School Lunch Fund, which helps cover costs.
Another problem facing the district is the projected fall opening of the Utica Academy of Science Charter School. Its tuition, transportation and other costs, such as paying for the special education services of students, come from the Utica school district’s state aid — totaling about $1.78 million.
Though the district’s fund balance is growing after having been used up over the last three years, it will not be used in the proposed budget. The balance as of July 1 was $875,156 compared to $775,000 in 2011.
“For all practical purposes, we have a depleted fund balance,” Karam said.
The Board of Education will review the budget and is expected to vote on it in March. The public then will have its say in the May public vote.
Board President Christopher Salatino's reaction Tuesday night: "It's once again dismal and very disheartening. This continues to hurt the students and the constituents of the city of Utica."
Creating the proposed budget was difficult, Karam said.
“We started the budget process in August, so we had enough time to plan, think about and make difficult budget decisions to make sure that we knew early on what our budget situation would be.”
Board Vice President Louis LaPolla Tuesday night summed up his thoughts of the proposed budget in one word — "catastrophic."