In order to save valuable programs for students, Plattsburgh City School Board will consider a 2012-13 budget that exceeds its calculated tax-levy limit.

Earlier this month, Plattsburgh City School District Superintendent James "Jake" Short announced that in order to stay within its calculated tax threshold of 3.01 percent, the district must eliminate $1.7 million from its spending plan.

To do so, Short proposed several cuts, including eliminating nine to 18 instructional and five support-staff positions; reducing the scope of the music, interscholastic-athletics, odyssey, foreign-languages and drop-out-prevention programs; reducing kindergarten from a full day to a half day; reducing secondary course offerings; and eliminating pre-kindergarten.

But board members expressed interest in possibly exceeding the school's tax cap to preserve at least some of the programs in jeopardy.


And at a recent board meeting, members of the public voiced concerns over what the loss of programs would mean for kids, as well as the community as a whole.

"Over 700 children participate in performing ensembles and over 900 children in classroom music in our School District," said Suzanne Barton, who has three children who are students.

"That's a huge number of children that, if music goes, it impacts."

District resident Fritz Tobrocke told the board that he fears that cutting programs could cause more kids to drop out of school and potentially lead to more crime in the community.

"The busier you keep these kids in school, the less chance that they're out on the street creating problems," he said.

Short explained at the meeting that, under the state's new property-tax-cap legislation, the district would need just a simple majority vote to pass a budget that stays within its tax cap; however, a spending plan with a levy higher than 3.01 percent would require a super-majority approval of 60 percent of people who vote.

The board will have two chances to present a budget to voters, he explained, and if neither passes, the law requires the district go to a contingency budget, which carries with it a zero percent tax-levy increase.


Adopting a contingency plan for the district would widen the budget gap to $2.3 million, necessitating further reductions to programs and staff.

"The stakes are high when you go above the statutory tax limit," Short said.

He presented board members with data illustrating the effect that various increases in the tax levy would have on the budget gap.

For example, a tax-levy increase of 3.45 percent would reduce the deficit by $84,244, an increase of 4.21 percent would cut the amount by $230,646, and a levy increase of 5.55 percent would narrow the budget gap by $490,232.

To completely eliminate the current $1.7 million budget deficit, Short explained, voters would have to approve a tax-levy increase of 13 percent.


Board members, he said, will have to decide on a levy that they feel taxpayers can support financially but that carries with it reductions they can live with.

All School Board members expressed a willingness to exceed the tax cap; although there was disagreement as to how much more than the 3.01 percent they were willing to ask of taxpayers.

Board member Clayton Morris said he supported a 13 percent increase because he felt it important to give voters the option of keeping the district's current offerings intact.

"For the past four years, we've done nothing but cut with the idea that this is what the public wants, and I'm not sure what the public wants, but I want to find out," he said.

"I think that if we present our budget to taxpayers, they will give us an idea of where to go."


Other members were hesitant to put forward such a drastic increase for fear it wouldn't pass, leaving the board only one budget failure away from contingency.

Board member Brian Herkalo said he could support a levy increase between 5.5 and 7 percent, but going much higher than that concerned him.

"I'd hate to see us get to a point where we are going into the third vote on our budget and getting to that point where we have to cut everything," he said.

"That would be disastrous for the entire city."

The board will adopt its final budget proposal at its next board meeting on Thursday, April 5. The meeting's public session will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Duken Building on Broad Street.

The budget will go before district voters on Tuesday, May 15.

Email Ashleigh Livingston at:

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