By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — TUPPER LAKE — Budget defeat here means revisiting cuts.
The proposed $17.2 million budget failed at the polls on May 21 with 685 “no” to 512 “yes” votes.
The planned tax-levy increase of 8.35 percent stood 3.59 points above the state’s tax-cap allowance of 4.76 percent, requiring a 60 percent or better super-majority for passage.
But “no” votes were the majority here.
Voters also shot down the plan to buy a new school bus.
WORKING ON REVISIONS
Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan said the administration has held several meetings to redress the spending plan.
He has said repeatedly that schools cannot cut their way out of what is becoming deficit-spending. And the district applied much of its reserve fund balance to reach the initial budget.
Nearly all school budgets are labor-intensive, meaning mandated cost increases come from salaries, pension cost increases and from the rising cost of health care.
“The administrative team is working on revisions now,” McGowan said Friday.
But what will revisions mean?
“It’s going to mean we are going to have fewer teachers. We’re going to have fewer programs,” McGowan said, noting the School Board will probably hold a special budget meeting this week.
“And at the June 3 meeting, which is a regular School Board meeting, the board will adopt the revised budget.”
Another public hearing on the budget is already set for 6 p.m. Monday, June 10, at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School library.
“To get to the tax cap, we need to reduce spending by $262,000. That’s a lot for us. I’ve said many times, you can’t cut your way out of the budget problem,” McGowan said.
The district faces nearly $1 million in additional mandates for employee benefits next year, he said.
State pension contributions in the district are going up $328,000 next year, or 16.25 percent. And health insurance for employees is increasing $552,000 next year, despite the fact that the district buys with the BOCES purchase agreement.
Federal funding cuts tor IDEA and Title I sucked $300,000 from next year’s revenue stream, moving those costs to the local taxpayer.
All of the increased costs are mandates, a fact that McGowan and the School Board have brought to the attention of lawmakers and State Education leaders in Albany.
“And we will continue to have the School District’s voice heard in Albany,” McGowan said.
“We’re involved in all the lobbying efforts. We also really need an economic-development project in Tupper Lake. Gaining the ability to move forward on the Adirondack Club and Resort project would help grow the tax base.”
Mandate relief should start with changes in the Annual Professional Performance Review plan, McGowan said.
“They should ease off on the requirements for that,” McGowan said of the teacher-review process, which he said consumes an unquantifiable amount of administrative time and school resources.
Performance Review plans were launched by State Ed two years ago and became mandatory this year.
“It came from Race to the Top,” McGowan said. “Tupper Lake received $26,000 in a one-shot deal. The impact to the district has exceeded that by 500 percent easily. And a lot of that $26,000 goes back to the regional BOCES for training. It’s very manipulated the way they’ve done this.”
The other impacts, from pension cost increases and rising health-insurance costs, are what McGowan terms “out of control.” The district has no choice but to pay whatever cost is assigned by the state.
McGowan said they are starting from a core of programs “to keep” and looking at all aspects of educational resources left in Tupper Lake.
“We always start with what we’re required to do. We have to preserve what is required by law.
“The second layer is student needs. We have students coming to school now with fewer skills in reading and simple vocabulary, for example. The priority is given to what we are required to do and to students’ need and where we can preserve programs for kids.
“That is what we are going to do.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam:firstname.lastname@example.org