By CHRIS EBERHART
Tuckahoe’s $31.3 million school budget was adopted in a unanimous 5-0 vote with words of support from board members despite continued pushback from the school’s teacher’s union.
The budget necessitated $1.2 million in cuts to be in compliance with the 1.43 percent state-mandated tax levy cap, which included the elimination of a social worker position, a move that caused a stir among teachers. Victor Karrlson, Tuckahoe’s business administrator, said the school district didn’t have a tax rate increase calculation, which is the total cost to the average homeowner, because there was no property value assessment.
Throughout the budget season, teachers union president Marianne Amato lobbied Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi and the board to retain the social worker. Amato said the school district is “top heavy” with administration, which is where she said the cuts should come from.
Nuzzi vehemently disagreed with Amato’s assertions that the school was “top heavy” with administration.
“We are not administration heavy. We are in a really good place. We have a good structure in place, and we’re not going to dismantle it,” Nuzzi said.
In previous budget meetings, Assistant Superintendent Carl Albano said the three remaining support staff members—two guidance counselors in the middle school and one guidance counselor in the high school—will take over the workload left behind by the dismissal of social worker, Traci Holtz.
Board members Michael Collins and Michelle Liscio expressed support for the budget and said they believe the school district can make up for the elimination of the social worker position.
“The emotional well being of our students has always been my number one priority,” Liscio said. “So I really struggled with [the idea of eliminating the social worker position]. But I believe the staff can pick up the responsibilities. I wouldn’t be voting for this budget otherwise.”
Collins showed similar support.
“We aren’t giving away money. We think this is necessary,” Collins said. “And when Nuzzi and Albano tell us we can handle [the loss of the social worker], then I think we can.”
With the adoption of the budget, the total amount of cuts to teachers and staff over the past three school years—since the 2012-2013 year—has exceeded $1 million. During the same three-year time frame, $470,000 worth of annual salaries for four new administrators—an assistant superintendent, two assistant principals and a director of physical education and health—has been added. This year’s cut in teachers and staff totaled $289,428.
But, as Nuzzi explained, the cuts would’ve been harsher if the district didn’t use $1.6 million from the fund balance, an $803,000 increase from last year and a $100,000 increase since the previously released budget on April 7.
The $100,000 increase from the previous budget was due to legal fees, according to Karlsson, but he said he could not specify what the legal fees were used for.
Without dipping into the fund balance, Nuzzi said the school district would have had to cut in-district transportation, modified sports, two full-time equivalent teachers or staff and reduce five full-time position teachers to .8 full-time equivalent.
The budget goes out to public vote on May 20.