By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — SARANAC LAKE — The proposed Saranac Lake Central School budget slipped through just below the tax-levy-cap maximum.
If voters pass the spending plan on May 21, one administrator would be laid off and the Summer School would be shut down.
LEVY UP 3.67%
Business Manager Dan Bower said the tax levy in the board-approved plan is up 3.67 percent, with a total $19,371,782 to be raised by taxes.
The tax-cap limit, adjusted for deductions and credits, is 3.79.
The total proposed 2013-14 school budget is $28,080,442, up 2.91 percent from the current year.
Saranac Lake Central gained nearly $394,000 more in funding in the final state budget. That mitigated drastic cost-saving measures to some extent, Bower said. But cuts were still necessary to close a $455,000 budget gap.
RETIREMENT FUND JUMP
A large portion of the budget increase comes from a 43 percent jump — $602,500 — in mandated payments to the State Teachers Retirement Fund.
The district briefly considered Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pension-smoothing plan, which allows schools and municipalities to obtain fixed-rate percentages for retirement contributions, sort of like a mortgage, amortized over 25 years.
“What the governor was proposing originally was allowing schools to smooth pension rate increases over 25 years at 12.5 percent,” Bower said. “But that is not what happened. The rate went to 16.25 percent as a one-year rate increase, and if you were going to take the smoothing option, you would not be able to take the exclusion in the tax-cap formula.
“When the measure came back in its final form, we saw it was just becoming a cash-flow moderator for refinancing debt. It really wasn’t helping our budget situation. We’re going to pay our bills as they come due,” he said.
One administrative job, Bloomingdale Elementary School principal, is being eliminated “because the employee there has the least seniority,” Bower said.
The district will shift personnel to cover the job but has not determined yet how that will take place.
Including benefits, the job cut trims more than $100,000 from the budget gap.
“This is the first year we have had a small number of retirements,” Bower said of ongoing staff reduction, which up until now has been largely based on attrition.
Two teachers and one teaching assistant are retiring at the end of this year, and those posts won’t be filled.
“The past few years we’ve had 13 or 14 retirements each year. As costs for other things increase, we have to look at programs and positions now.”
Universal Pre-K is now being run through local child-care programs.
“We are eliminating the district-operated prekindergarten program,” Bower said. “We will send the money we receive for Universal Pre-K to our collaborating agencies: four day cares in the area that have each applied to participate and receive the funding.
“The total amount of Universal Pre-K aid is $137,700, and it will serve as many students as we can at those four facilities. It was costing more to run those programs in-house.”
The move cuts one related position, Bower said.
But others job cuts are also proposed, he said.
“We will a lose one teaching assistant in pre-K and then reduce two more teaching assistants across the district. We’re going to eliminate one position in the purchasing department. We’re going to eliminate one IT (information technology) position, that of the district data coordinator. We’re cutting one English language arts teacher, which will become a split position between the Middle and High School.”
The district is cutting Summer School at the Middle/High School level for a savings of about $25,000.
If Saranac Lake students need to make up course credits, Bower said, they can utilize the credit-recovery program, a supervised online resource offered through BOCES.
Saranac Lake Central is applying $800,000 of fund balance toward the 2013-14 budget, where for the past few years it has pulled $1 million from reserve funds.
No cuts to sports programming are planned.
School employee health-care costs are up 6.5 percent even with cooperative purchasing through Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES, Bower said.
The district has a three-year contract with teachers that extends from July 2012 to the end of June 2015.
Teacher salary increases were set at 2.95 percent for the current year, which goes up 3.15 percent next year and then to 3.41 percent in 2014-15.
School staff took a 3 percent increase each year in their contract, but all staff employees agreed to enroll in a lower-cost health-care plan.
The district hired new Superintendent Diane Fox at a salary of $115,000, Bower said.
And administrative staff was given two options for a pay raise that hinged on which type of heath-care plan the employees choose, he said.
“Administration staff that kept the current health-care plan received at zero percent this year, a 1 percent raise in 2013-4 and 1 percent in 2014-15.”
Staff who stay with the classic health-care plan would see insurance-contribution increases of 10 percent, 12 percent and 15 percent of the premium for the contract period.
“In the PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plan, increases for administrative staff are set at 1.25, 1.5 and 1.5 percent for each year, and the share (of premium) payment steps would be 4, 6 and 8 percent of the health-care cost.”
Bower said he himself opted for a pay freeze in the current budget year, with a 1 percent raise in the next budget and 1 percent in 2014-15, while paying a percentage of health insurance that increases correspondingly, from 10 to 12 to 15 percent.
Tax rates for the seven towns in the Saranac Lake School District have not been calculated.
“We don’t project tax rates because we don’t know what the assessment values are,” Bower said.
Two propositions are included on the budget ballot: one for the purchase of three new school buses at a cost not to exceed $330,000 and one to give $137,467 to Saranac Lake Free Library.
The budget public hearing is 7 p.m. May 14 in the Petrova School library.
The school budget vote is 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Saranac Lake High School.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org