Press-Republican

March 30, 2013

NCCS proposes cuts, still faces deficit

ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Northeastern Central School continues to face a budget deficit for 2013-14 despite a number of proposed cuts.

The district's initial $1.2 million gap has been partially bridged by nearly $500,000 in recommended reductions and $290,000 more state aid than was originally allocated in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2013-14 executive budget proposal.

However, a nearly $400,000 deficit remains, according to NCCS Interim Superintendent Gerald Blair.

"We're going to lose some people in this budget," Blair told attendees at a recent School Board meeting. "We're going to have some people move from their comfort zone to another area of work, (and) we're going to be asking people to do more with less."

FURLOUGH DAYS

The district's proposed reductions include the elimination of two kindergarten teaching assistants, two to four bus monitors and two part-time clerical positions. Hours will be reduced for a Middle High School nurse by 40 percent, a maintenance person by 20 percent and a school psychologist by 40 percent.

A full-time foreign-language teaching position, Middle School English teaching job and custodian would also be eliminated through attrition, and nine Middle High School teachers would teach one less class period per day, resulting in fewer sections of technology, home-economics, art, business, music, English, math, social studies and science courses.

In addition, all district principals and assistant principals would be required to take four to five furlough days a year, and the superintendent would take 40 days off without pay next school year.

Furlough days would also be mandated for the director of special education, business manager, account clerk typist, district treasurer and supervisor of buildings and grounds, as well as guidance counselors and school psychologists.

PAY FREEZE REQUEST

Blair has proposed cutting $20,000 from the athletics program, which, he said, would leave all sports intact but would eliminate funding for extras, such as team banners, transportation to tournaments and possibly transportation home from winter games.

Additional cost-saving proposals include reductions in contracted services and materials, supplies and field-trip expenditures, as well as the reassignment of district secretarial staff and the relocation of a clerical secretary from the district office to the transportation department, where the position would be nearly 88 percent funded by state transportation aid.

Blair has also recommended reducing funding to the Harvard Model United Nations program and annual sixth-grade Outdoor Education trip, by $2,000 each.

"There are no good decisions in this budget — none," the interim superintendent said.

Blair told the Press-Republican he was awaiting responses from NCCS unions about whether they will take salary freezes to help close the district's remaining gap.

Any part of the deficit that is not bridged through contract re-negotiations, he said, would have to be made up with additional cuts.

'TOUGHEST BUDGET'

Areas made vulnerable by the need for further reductions, Blair noted, include summer school, additional elective courses, athletics and the integrated classrooms, where content and special-education teachers assist students who need extra help.

"This has been the toughest budget I have ever done," Blair said at the meeting. "I've been up nights thinking about it."

The district's spending gap, he told the Press-Republican, is the result of the School Board opting to use $3 million in fund balance for each of its last four spending plans and not raising its tax levy.

For the upcoming school year, Blair has proposed applying $1.5 million in reserves and setting the levy at the district's limit of 2.75 percent.

However, he noted, only about $80,000 in fund balance would remain at the end of 2013-14.

"Next year is probably going to be a more difficult year than this year," Blair said at the meeting.

'TURNING ALL STONES'

The School Board could also attempt to eliminate some or all of the remaining deficit by including a tax-levy increase above its limit; however, such a spending plan would require 60 percent voter approval to pass.

If the school's first proposed budget is voted down, whether it be above or within the tax-levy limit, the district would have one more chance to pass a spending plan before being forced to go to a contingency budget with zero increase in the tax levy.

"If the budget doesn't pass, the School District that you know here will definitely not be normal," Blair said.

NCCS, he added, is exploring long-term cost-saving options, including sharing services with a neighboring district and switching employee health-care coverage from Plan A to Plan B.

"There's no stone that we're not turning over," Blair said.

In addition, the district is hoping to recruit tuition-paying students from Vermont and Canada.

"We're trying to the lower costs, (and) we're trying to bring people in," Blair said.

The School Board is expected to finalize its 2013-14 spending plan at its next meeting, set for 4 p.m. Thursday, April 11.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:

alivingston@pressrepublican.com