Press-Republican

February 20, 2013

City School anticipates difficult budget

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School District anticipates having to make difficult budgetary decisions for 2013-14.

“The circumstances before us from a budget point of view are dire, they are challenging,” City School Associate Superintendent Jay Lebrun said at the recent School Board meeting.

Those circumstances, according to Lebrun, include significant cost increases coupled with only modest increases in revenue.

AID VS. RISING COSTS

Preliminary estimates based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2013-14 executive budget proposal show the district receiving a 0.97 percent increase in state aid next school year.

However, Lebrun said, salaries and employees and retiree benefits, which account for close to 70 percent of the school’s operating budget, are on the rise.

Faculty salaries are set to increase 4.15 percent on average in 2013-14, he said, while health-care costs are projected to increase 7 percent.

In addition, Employee Retirement System rates are expected to go up 12.8 percent next school year and Teacher Retirement Fund rates, 37 percent.

“These cost areas drive the majority of our budget,” Lebrun said. “They represent the lion’s share of our budget.”

PUBLIC INPUT SOUGHT

The district has not yet determined its state-mandated tax-levy limit for 2013-14, as school officials are awaiting more information from the state regarding the formula used to calculate the figure.

Board member Fred Wachtmeister, who presided over the meeting due to the absence of both Board President Leisa Boise and Vice President Tracy Rotz, encouraged members of the public to attend meetings and provide their input during the budget planning process.

The School Board, he said, needs to hear from people who might wish to advocate for the inclusion of particular programs in the spending plan, as well as individuals who feel the district should make reductions.

“This time of the year, we need to bring out that larger community to help us as we move forward,” Wachtmeister said.

EXTRACURRICULARS

In addition, board member Dr. David Stone noted that as the district goes into budget season, it’s important to keep in mind the positive effect that extracurricular activities and the arts have on overall student achievement.

“If we take these things away from our children, then we’re cheating them ... We have to be very careful as we pare away more,” he said.

HEALTH-PLAN COSTS

During the public-comment session at the start of the meeting, Plattsburgh resident Walter Chmura urged the board to discuss switching employee health care from Plan A, which it currently offers, to Plan B.

The coverage supplied by the two plans, Chmura said, appears to be similar; however, Plan B is significantly less costly.

“Plan A is going to undergo a 7 percent increase, which will significantly impact taxpayers,” he said.

However, the cost of Plan B, Chmura noted, is not expected to increase.

Wachtmeister stated that any changes in health insurance would have to be negotiated with the district’s unions and, therefore, would not take effect in the near future.

ADMINISTRATIVE POSITIONS

Plattsburgh resident Fritz Tobrocke also addressed the board, urging the district to consider eliminating administrative positions in 2013-14.

“In the past two years, a lot of service positions have taken a hard hit,” he said. “I feel the board should look at starting at the top this year when looking at cuts.”

During the second public-comment period, just before the close of the meeting, Plattsburgh resident Ken Baker told the board something must be done about the rising costs of the school’s salaries and benefits.

“You have to start taking a look at that stuff. There is no more wealth here. This is a rural area. Everybody is taxed out …This area does not support these obscene salaries, and they are just short of being obscene.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston: alivingston@pressrepublican.com