Draft York City school budget would ax 32 teachers

York City School District would eliminate 32 teaching positions next year under a preliminary budget approved Wednesday by the school board.

The cuts are part of a $6.2 million, district-wide effort to reduce spending that  includes the elimination of 44 positions, as officials grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Twenty-two teachers from the art, music, Spanish and physical education departments would be axed. So, too, would 10 from the Cornerstone behavioral program. Eleven aides and an assistant principal are also on the list of cuts.

"I can say without hesitation that this pandemic journey has been one of the most challenging experiences we have faced or will likely ever face," said Superintendent Andrea Berry.

The draft budget also includes salary freezes for teachers and administrators. It restructures several programs to reduce costs. The district's Cornerstone and Restorative Justice programs would be cut entirely.

The staffing reductions alone would save about $3.7 million, officials said. 

York City Education Association President Jeff Werner urged the board not to rush into a budget plan that he said would have negative repercussions that could last years. His statement is also listed as a petition signed by district staff on the association's website.

"We wish that we had not been blindsided by this," he said, noting teacher associations are usually included in discussions before being hit with proposed cuts at a public meeting.

After receiving 21 public comments urging them to reconsider the cuts, board members Arleta Riviera and Lisa Kennedy said their support for the preliminary budget was contingent on their ability to amend it before finalizing a 2020-21 spending plan.

That vote is scheduled for June 24. 

York City school board members Arleta Riviera (left) and Cassandra Liggins (middle), along with Superintendent Andrea Berry, listen to school police Chief Michael Muldrow explain the Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative, which was approved by the board Wednesday, Jan. 22.

More:York City could ax 44 jobs amid budget crisis

Overall, the $153. 9 million budget the board approved unanimously Wednesday would boost taxes by 4.2%, while reducing spending by $5.5 million relative to this year's budget. That tax hike would mean a $113 increase on a home assessed at $79,950, the median value in the district, based on recent estimates.

Berry said officials had no choice but to consider the cuts. York City does not have enough in its fund balance to spend another $6 million as it did last year to maintain programs in its financial recovery plan.

And fund balance cannot be used to balance the budget if the district expects an exit from recovery — a designation it was given in 2012.

More:Here's why state didn't release York City School District from financial recovery

"No challenge is more painful than that of balancing a budget in a historically underfunded public school district," she said.

Reducing the spending gap in one year is too ambitious, Werner said, and the loss of programming and staff could drive students away, compounding the budget problem.

Jeff Kirkland, talks about York's African-American history Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, at his home in York City. Kirkland is starting up the York African-American Historical Preservation Society  and will give a presentation  at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 13  for the York County History Center's Second Saturday lecture series. Amanda J. Cain photo

Jeff Kirkland said he faced similar decisions as the former board president about a decade ago, and progress in quality education always gets sacrificed.

"It seems like we've stayed on a yo-yo, where every time we improve those services, we end up having to cut back on what we've been doing because of budgetary issues," he said.

Most public comments were directed toward saving library aides and behavior specialists — both of which are on the chopping block — as well as teachers for specialties such as art and music.

Cutting behavior specialists would return a savings of $825,398, and cutting aides from the York County Libraries would return $461,200. 

Robert Lambert

York County Libraries President Robert Lambert said the program has been with the district for 33 years and said it should be spared. 

Berry said the cuts in specialties would only reduce staff to reorganize those departments, but kindergarten teacher Andrea Moyers-Bloss said the art experience will be limited with teachers traveling between buildings.

"For many students, their only art experience is in a school setting," she said.

Ryan Supler, who ran for York County treasurer last year, said it  didn't make sense for taxes to be raised in a district with the highest rate in the county, especially since that would push up rent in a time when the city just announced 103 furloughs.

More:York City to furlough 103 as revenues plunge

York County Treasurer candidate Ryan Supler talks with supporters during a watch party at Rockfish Public House in York City Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

A statement provided by state-mandated recovery officer Carol Saylor, however, said this budget is the best-case scenario. If state and local revenue shares fall — both of which are likely -— the district will need to make more cuts.

Using a fund balance to balance the 2019-20 budget doubles what needs to be made up next year, she said.

"As painful as this budget is, there’s no other option," Saylor said.