▶ But probable loss of state aid will make goal difficult, superintendent concedes

By MICHELLE BESAW Staff Writer

ELLENBURG DEPOT — The Northern Adirondack Central School Board here is looking to hold the line as it begins work on the 2010-11 budget.

"Of course, our goal is to maintain a flat rate and no increase in the taxes," said NACS Superintendent Laura Marlow.

But with a probable 5-percent cut in state funding, that goal may be more difficult.

"I think it's going to be a tough year to get budgets passed," Marlow said.

To make up for some of those losses, the board is looking to evaporate positions emptied through attrition or retirement.

TAKING BITES

While the budget is still in preliminary stages, initial numbers show a 2.8-percent increase to the overall budget, jumping about $500,000 from the current budget of $17.9 million.

That's a number board member Mindy Warick is uncomfortable with, given the probability of future state cuts down the road.

"I think it's totally irresponsible to stay status quo when we know cuts are coming," she said. "I know I don't want my name attached to it.

"I think it's more useful to take small bites as we go, instead of big bites later," she said at Monday night's budget workshop, which looked at the salaries, wages and benefits area of the budget.

SPECIAL-ED COSTS

Warick pointed out that grades kindergarten through six had 22 regular teachers and seven special-education teachers, plus some students have their own one-on-one aide.

"I really think that could be a place for savings," she said.

But Marlow said the inclusion classrooms, which have both a regular-education teacher and a special-education teacher, are really the "Cadillac of programs. By doing that, you can actually service more students."

CHANGE FROM 2009

Warick noted that taxpayers saw less than a 1-percent increase in the current budget.

But Business Manager Brian Tousignant said a lot of factors came into play last year, specifically in bus fuel and utilities.

"Historically, the district has been very conservative, both on the revenue side and on the spending plan," he said. "We should be able to end with a tax rate, basically, if not right on, where we are now."

In the current budget, the district saved almost $300,000 on utilities and bus fuel, planning $1.75 to $2 per gallon, instead of nearly $4 like the year before, savings that Tousignant said were like pulling rabbits out of a hat.

"This year, we're not going to see that big savings. I don't see those same rabbits without making problematic cuts."

PAY, BENEFITS

The bulk of the $500,000 increase for 2010-11 comes from salaries and benefits, which account for $400,000.

Last year, benefits totaled 6.19 percent, which jumps to 8.62 percent for next year, including teachers' retirement, which accounts for an additional $160,000. Health insurance alone went up 6 percent, another $160,000 increase.

"Unfortunately, those are two areas we have little or no control over," Tousignant said.

"Not to say we didn't have those increases last year, but we had those utility savings. My concern last year when we did that is that next year we can't do that again."

Tousignant said one place they're looking to save is by turning a custodial position into a maintenance position, after the possible retirement of a staff member. The pay will increase $5,000 to $6,000 but will pay for itself when they don't have to contract out the work.

IMPACT ON PROJECT

Board member Michael Carter said they need to consider the promise made to taxpayers about the no-cost EXCEL project, which is up for vote again March 22. He said keeping the taxes low is imperative to that mission.

Board President Joey Varin agreed.

"I think (Warick's) planting an awareness seed," he said, regarding her concerns. "It's coming, like Mike said, on the heels of an EXCEL vote. We may have to sharpen our pencils."

The preliminary budget doesn't include any small projects, under the assumption that the EXCEL project will pass.

"If the project is not successful, we will have to revisit those areas," Tousignant said.

E-mail Michelle Besaw at: mbesaw@pressrepublican.com

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