Budget problems will linger

Published 7:27 pm Monday, March 2, 2009

This budget season certainly seems like the longest one in recent history. The situation has not yet begun to improve, in spite of the passage of landmark legislation designed to stimulate the economy.

The economic stimulus package has provided a source of hope to many, hope that it will fix what is wrong with our economy. I want to issue a strong word of caution as the stimulus package relates to Suffolk Public Schools. The stimulus package will NOT fix what is wrong!

The proposed stimulus package has not resulted in any modifications of the budget I submitted to the School Board earlier this month. Hope exists that the stimulus money will eventually have some positive impact on our finances, but that hope has to be tempered with reminders:

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4These funds are part of a short-term solution.

4These funds come with yet unknown restrictions on how they can be used.

4There is no published timeline for when these funds will come to local divisions.

4There has been little discussion of the solution for the recently reported additional $800 million state revenue shortfall.

There is no way to avoid the cutbacks in our immediate future. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. We must accept that our future will not be business as usual. What we must do is create new ways of doing things. We must plan to do more with less, because our standards, our requirements and our expectations remain unchanged.

I will repeat here what I have said a number of times previously. It is my intent to offer a position to every employee who is displaced by the reduction of our budget. To this point, I have not recommended the elimination of a single classroom position that is currently staffed. The teaching positions eliminated in the budget proposal are all currently vacant. This iteration of the budget does not increase class size, although future versions might.

Even as I issue these cautions, I remain hopeful that the stimulus money will have some positive impact on our situation. Once we know the permitted uses of the funds, we might restore previously existing positions or programs.

Please note that even if we are permitted to restore some positions, we must immediately plan to phase them out by the end of the two years for which stimulus funds are expected to be available.

There can be no doubt that these are challenging days. We will use these days, however, to help make us better than we are now.

Although there is uncertainty regarding our fiscal outlook, our commitment remains to provide quality educational experiences for our children. We must continue to succeed, because our children deserve nothing less.

MILTON R. LIVERMAN is the superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools. E-mail him at miltonliverman@spsk12.net.