Steep increases in mandated costs and a reduction in state aid have helped create a $2.5 million budget gap that makes staff cuts inevitable next year, Hannibal Schools Superintendent Michael DiFabio said this week.

"There's no question we'll have less staff next year than we do now," he said, adding the district already has reduced support staff in recent years. "We don't have any place else to cut. ... We're down to teachers, teaching assistants and administrators."

Increases in retirement and workers' compensation costs, contractual wage increases and a $300,000 reduction in state aid account for much of the $2.5 million shortfall as the district prepares its 2005-06 budget proposal.

Last year's budget was $20.1 million.

DiFabio spent Monday looking at the budget lines for each of the district's 216 employees.

"I'm going through, person by person, making sure the (salary) numbers are correct," he said. "We're taking this step by step."

Retirements might help ease the pain by reducing staff through attrition and hiring new teachers at lower salaries to replace retirees. DiFabio said 18 teachers will be at retirement age by the end of the school year.

At least one administrative post will be cut. Middle school Principal Mary Milcetic will retire in June, and there are plans to juggle the staff to fill that opening without another hire.

Business administrator Charles Walters listed the following increases in next year's budget:

$340,000 more for staff salaries, based on 3 percent contractual increases.

$300,000 for health insurance.

$224,000 for the state Teachers' Retirement System.

$96,000 for the state employee retirement system, which covers support workers.

$113,000 for workers' compensation.

$130,000 for electric and natural gas, in part because of the enlarged elementary and middle schools.

$104,000 for Oswego BOCES special-education and occupational services.

$100,000 for debt service.

$28,000 for Social Security.

$150,000 for miscellaneous categories.

Adding to the district's woes is a $300,000 reduction in state aid due to cuts in special education and transportation.

DiFabio said the state aid figures were deceptive because the district's so-called flex aid, which allows discretion in how the money is used, included money for specific programs, such as pre-kindergarten and elementary class-size reduction.

"You've got to pull that money out of the formula," he said.

Walters said he hopes to have a budget proposal to present to the board by the second week of April. He's hopeful the state may restore some cuts.

"If the Legislature gets its act together, there's a chance we could get some help from the state," he said, "but we're not counting on it."

The district also is not counting on almost $216,000 in so-called Sound Basic Education aid, a new category that Gov. George Pataki proposed as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to reform the way schools are funded.

"It appears to be aid over and above what is the bottom line on our budget, but we don't know that it's guaranteed," Walters said. "We're being advised not to count on it."