Press-Republican

April 17, 2013

City School maintains programs, considers restorations

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City School District officials have proposed a 2013-14 budget that maintains all current programs and calls for no layoffs.

The $39.4 million spending plan, which has not yet been adopted by the School Board, carries a tax-levy increase of 2.49 percent.



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Though the district reported last month that it anticipated a $1.2 million deficit for the coming school year, City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short told the board at a recent meeting that increases in revenue allow the school to close the gap without cutting programs.

Under the state’s 2013-14 budget, the school will receive $591,586 more in state aid than was originally projected in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal.

“That delivered us from having to make any more of those dramatic cuts,” Short said at the meeting.

In addition, he has proposed putting $665,000 toward the spending plan from the district’s employee retirement reserve, a fund established to handle increases in Employee Retirement System costs.

RETIREMENTS HELP

Savings will also be realized through retirements, as the equivalent of one full-time secondary teaching position will be eliminated through attrition, and other retirees will be replaced at lower salaries.

Short said the increase in state aid also allows the district to reduce its use of fund balance from $1.9 million to $1.7 million.

“If we can slowly become less reliant on that fund-balance reserve, we then take away our potential fiscal cliff,” he said.

GYMNASTICS FUNDS SOUGHT

During the public-comment portion at the start of the meeting, Bob Bunnell, a member of the Plattsburgh High School Gymnastics Support Group, urged the board to reinstate funding for the sport.

Eliminated last spring due to budget cuts, the PHS gymnastics team raised enough money to fund itself this school year.

Following Short’s budget briefing, board member Fred Wachtmeister said he would support increasing the tax levy, which is well under the district’s calculated 5.58 percent limit, as a means of restoring previously eliminated programs like gymnastics and field trips.

About $11,000 would be needed for gymnastics, said City School Associate Superintendent Jay Lebrun, while restoring field trips to their previous capacity would require another $26,500.

“We are, in essence, leaving some money on the table that would be able to be utilized for programmatic improvements,” Wachtmeister said of keeping the levy at 2.49 percent.

Raising the additional $37,500 via taxes, he added, would put the district’s total tax-levy increase at about 2.7 percent.

In addition, he advocated for restoration of previous cuts to the district’s music, foreign-language and Odyssey programs.

ADDING CLASS SECTIONS

Wachtmeister also expressed concern that some class sizes at Oak Street and Momot elementary schools are approaching their limits for next school year.

Short said the district may need to add up to three elementary class sections next fall, depending on how enrollment pans out; however, he likely won’t know for sure until sometime this summer.

There is room in his proposed budget, he said, to add two class sections if needed, but adding a third would be difficult without additional funding.

While board member Dr. David Stone said he supported restoring gymnastics, field trips and Odyssey, fellow member Clayton Morris said he felt the primary concern should be ensuring funding for a third class section.

If, ultimately, it were not needed, Morris said, that money could then be used to restore programs.

LEVY OPTIONS

Another option, Wachtmeister said, would be to stick with a 2.49 percent tax-levy increase and use reserves to fund budget additions.

Board members Amelia Goerlitz and Robert Hall and Vice President Tracy Rotz said they would support such a move, as they wished not to increase the proposed levy.

Wachtmeister noted, however, that the board should make a firm decision before this summer about whether to fund gymnastics, a fall sport, so the team can plan accordingly.

Stone suggested using reserves to fund a third class section, as well as gymnastics and field trips.

“I would agree to increasing to make sure that we have that third teacher, and that’s it,” Morris responded. “I really don’t think we should be adding anything else.”

The board voted 5 to 4 to table adoption of a spending plan until its next meeting, set for Thursday, April 25, in the Duken Building on Broad Street. The board is expected to re-enter public session at 7:30 p.m.

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com