By ALVIN REINER
---- — WESTPORT — As in most districts, the yearly headache of balancing rising expenses against the state-mandated cap complicates the budget process at Westport Central School.
It could result in staff cuts for next school year.
The current budget of $5,408,000 compared to projected expenditures of $5,436,021 for next school year leaves a gap of $28,021.
The allowable tax cap, according to the state formula, is a 3.76 percent increase, while the projected levy stands at 4.14 percent.
“This is the fourth try at the budget process,” Westport Superintendent Dr. John Gallagher said at a recent School Board meeting. “Rumors have been running rampant that we will be cutting 80 percent of our staff.”
That obviously will not happen, Gallagher continued, but “we are in serious financial straits due to state aid, insurance and retirement. It is very frustrating.”
Among the larger increases are $31,869 more for Board of Cooperative Educational Services costs, $40,005 for health insurance, $8,300 for the Employee Retirement System and $82,525 for the Teachers Retirement System.
Gallagher and the School Board plan to use $132,000 of the fund balance to offset the difference.
“We were told to use this,” he said, noting that school districts are limited to how much can be accumulated in their fund balances, so this is not unusual.
Gallagher was hopeful that additional state funding will help with the budget gap. He also expects the price of heating oil will decrease 23 cents a gallon.
School Board member Dwayne Stevens wanted to know if the money saved by fuel-oil costs could go into insulation for the bus garage, which might result in additional savings.
Board member Tom Kohler indicated the money would have to go into the fund balance first.
“In order to make this work, we’re looking at across-the-board cuts in staff,” Gallagher said. “If nothing else happens, on April 11, we will list where savings can be achieved.
“Without being specific, it will be across the board. It’s a very unpleasant proposition.”
By law, school districts must have their budgets in place by April 26, so they can be put to the voters in May.
A spending plan that is over the allocated tax-levy hike must get 60 percent or greater voter approval in order to pass.
“I want to keep everyone in the loop and pull no surprises,” the superintendent said. “If, at April 11, there is a chance that we have to go for staff reductions, I will meet with the union.
“It could affect all departments — staff, instructional support and maintenance.”
A discussion ensued over the possibility of merging sports teams with other schools to save money.
“We would have to look at traveling expenses and how much this takes away from the students’ study time,” Stevens said.
“It makes me so mad. It’s sickening that our state government is taking from the kids.”
In other business at the School Board meeting, the board:
▶ Decided that unused snow days will be taken May 23 and 24.
▶ Discussed sharing facilities with Camp Dudley if either has to evacuate during an emergency.
▶ Approved a request from Champlain Valley Fencing Club to use the gym on May 4 and 5.
▶ Adopted a Concussion Management Policy.
The School Board will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the school library, with the 2013-14 budget on the agenda. The meeting is open to all.
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