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Edgemont School Budget Draft Cuts Teachers, Classes

EDGEMONT, N.Y. – For taxpayers, Tuesday night's unveiling of the Edgemont School District's 2012-2013 budget proposal was a classic good news-bad news moment. For parents and school employees, there was little to cheer about.

The good news: Superintendent Nancy Taddiken's budget proposal, delivered to the Edgemont Board of Education, came in under the 2 percent New York State tax levy cap. The bad news: Because of a quirk of the calendar, lower-than-expected tax receipts in the 2011-2012 budget will be made up in the coming year, meaning that, for someone whose home is assessed at $30,000, the proposed budget would mean a $635 tax hike.

The bad news for parents and employees: The budget proposal includes "structural changes," as Taddiken called them that contribute heavily to the loss of 1.5 full-time teaching positions in kindergarten through sixth grade and 5.15 at the secondary school level. Projected enrollment decreases also contributed to the teacher cuts, especially at the elementary level, Taddiken said.

"We reviewed the expectations of the Edgemont community," Taddiken said before handing out her proposal. We considered what we want, and what others in the community want, and that is to preserve what we have, but to spend less doing it."

The bottom line is a $50,016,261 budget, up .31 percent from the current year's $49,861,858.

Still, the actual tax rate increase – not to be confused with the tax levy – is 3.42 percent, while last year's hike was 1.71 percent.

Board member Thomas McCormack explained, "The increase last year was supposed to be 2.71 percent, but, because of the timing of the cert (certiorari), we only collected 1.71 percent. That other 1 percent had to be moved to this year."

That means Edgemont taxpayers got an unexpected break this year, but will have to pay the piper this time around.

The budget "reflects major sacrifices," Taddiken said. "It means the loss of jobs of current members of the staff and faculty and program changes."

While enrollment reductions account for planned cutbacks in the number of sections at the elementary schools, the secondary schools would feel the sting of the cuts. Students would have fewer options for elective courses in English and social studies. Some course would be offered every two years.

"I'm confident this budget is not going to eviscerate the Edgemont education," Taddiken said.

Co-curricular activities take a hit in the proposal, as sixth- and ninth-grade camps are eliminated. Interscholastic athletics, too, are cut back, with reductions in the number of games to save money on transportation, officials and related expenses. No teams are cut, though.

Board members David Stern and Michaeline Curtis both expressed their happiness that the cuts were not more drastic and preserve the core education.

"All the rest are enhancements," Curtis said, suggesting that the board could look for outside funding to restore some of what has been cut.

"I don't want people to get the idea we're slashing the core program," Stern said. "We're not."

Taddiken, who said she had met with public resistance over eliminating the camps, said she'd find it hard to restore the co-curricular activities if extra money was found. Her first priority, she said, would be to restore the teaching positions that would affect all the students "from September to June."

Parent Margaret Goldberg said she was concerned the cuts would be setting a new tone for Edgemont education.

"I hope this does not reflect a change in philosophy," she said, pleading with Taddiken and the board to restore the high school teaching positions. Goldberg was joined by several other parents in the crowd, which one person said was the biggest gathering for a budget workshop she's ever seen.

Board President Gerald Stoughton admitted the budget proposal was not easy to swallow. "It is changing the totality of what has been as Edgemont education," he said.

Taddiken said she had to consider the mood of the community when building her proposal.

"I had to consider the fiscal economy," she said. "It's the first year of the property tax levy cap. I did not feel, based on what I heard informally in the community and looking at the challenges to the assessments, that we could go for an override" of the cap.

Taddiken said she did not believe her proposal will be changed dramatically by the board, which must notify the state by March 1 whether it intends to ask for a voter override. The next public meeting will be at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday when the public will again be able to ask questions and make comments about the budget proposal.

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