By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh City School Board has adopted a 2013-14 budget that maintains all current programs and restores some previous cuts, including gymnastics.
The $39,632,807 spending plan, approved 5 to 3 at a recent meeting, represents a $200,000 increase over the budget City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short had proposed for next year.
The adopted budget, which takes additional money from reserves, would also reinstate partial funding for field trips and restore a part-time music teacher back to full time.
Also, a program for gifted and talented students would be reinstated, though not to the scale of the Odyssey Program that was cut from the current budget.
SAME LEVY INCREASE
The remaining $70,000 of additional money would be used to fund an elementary teaching position should the need arise due to increased enrollment. If it doesn’t, the money would go back into fund balance.
Board Member Fred Wachtmeister suggested funding for the items be included in the plan after the board defeated Short’s proposal in a 7-to-1 vote.
The superintendent had suggested the district reduce its use of fund balance from the $1.9 million allocated for this year to $1.7 million, to ensure the reserves last longer; the adopted plan would use the higher amount if voters approve it in May.
As with Short’s proposal, however, the board-approved plan would carry a tax-levy increase of 2.49 percent. The district’s allowable limit is 5.58 percent.
Thanks to $591,586 more in state aid than had been expected and $665,000 from the district’s employee retirement reserve, the budget calls for no layoffs.
However, the equivalent of one full-time secondary teaching position would be eliminated through attrition, and retirees would be replaced at lower salaries.
‘A LOT OF KIDS’
Before voting on the proposed budgets, the board heard from community members.
Plattsburgh resident Ron Marino noted that despite being cut from the 2012-13 budget, the gymnastics team was able to raise enough money to sustain itself for the year.
“We taught them self-reliance,” he said, “and now we want to take that away.
“You can’t increase your dollars, your income, but you can control your expenses, and if you look at it realistically and dispassionately, thinking of quality education at an affordable price, you’ll do the right thing.”
C. Joseph Staves, who retired as the district’s long-time athletic director last fall, told the board he regretted suggesting that it cut gymnastics last year.
“We seem to always target and look at the things that the kids like about school, the things that are good for them, the things that bring them to school ... I would recommend that the board give serious consideration to bringing gymnastics back as a varsity and modified sport.”
Plattsburgh resident Suzanne Barton advocated for the music position to be restored to full time.
“Our music department in the City of Plattsburgh reaches over 500 students; that’s a lot of kids,” she said. “It gives them opportunities to grow, to develop all different kinds of skills.”
‘NOT OUT OF WOODS’
Short addressed board members before they voted on either spending plan.
“As much as we did what we could to make this budget not have a lot of anxiety and layoffs, we’re not out of the woods yet financially,” he said.
“And I just throw my caution in there to not be overzealous with adding a lot back into a budget when it sits on a very narrow edge.”
While board member Steven Sullivan voted in favor of the superintendent’s budget proposal, Wachtmeister and fellow board members Amelia Goerlitz, Robert Hall, Steve Krieg and Dr. David Stone, Board President Leisa Boise and Vice President Tracy Rotz voted against it.
Board member Clayton Morris was not present.
‘FORCED BY STATE’
The amended plan was favored by Goerlitz, Krieg, Stone, Wachtmeister and Sullivan, while Boise, Hall and Rotz opposed it.
Wachtmeister commended the board for voting to increase the amount budgeted for next school year but noted he understood and respected the logic behind Short’s spending proposal.
“As the board, we are the policymaker, and we get to define what ultimately will be provided to the children of the City School District,” he said.
By reinstating programs, Wachtmeister continued, the board is standing up to the political powers in the state who have created a system that “forced upon school districts throughout the state ... an abandonment, in many cases, of important programs that provide opportunities for the children of their communities.
“We need to ensure that the constitutional requirement of equity in educational opportunity is provided ... we are an area that is not wealthy — and I understand that — compared to other areas, but many of those other areas have programs far exceeding what we are offering.”
SURPRISED BY ADDITIONS
During the second public-comment session at the end of the meeting, Marino addressed Wachtmeister directly, saying, “Fred, I have to tell you that you’re about the most arrogant person I ever met with taxpayers’ money. You’re bringing this place closer and closer to a fiscal cliff.”
After the meeting, Short told the Press-Republican that while he did not anticipate the board’s decision to add $200,000 to the budget, it indicates board members’ desire to fund programs for which the community has shown support.
The district will hold a public budget hearing at 7:30 p.m Wednesday, May 8, at the Duken building. The spending plan will go up for public vote on Tuesday, May 21.
Email Ashleigh Livingston:firstname.lastname@example.org