WARRENSBURG-A motion to cut the Warrensburg Central School District's proposed 2011-12 budget down to a zero percent increase in local tax levy was narrowly defeated Monday evening by the school board in a 4-3 vote.
Minutes later, the board decided in a similar 4-3 divided vote to endorse the school administration's recommended 2011-12 budget, calling for appropriations of $18,521,841 - and to spend $18,506,841 as a contingency plan.
The approved budget, which calls for an overall decrease in spending of 2.61 percent from the present year but an increase of 1.92 percent in local tax levy, now goes before a public vote in the annual school district election, to be held from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 17 in the high school gymnasium.
If the endorsed budget is defeated in the public vote, the contingency plan goes into effect.
The reason there's a decrease in projected spending yet an increase in tax levy is due to a reduction of about $805,000 in state aid for 2011-12. The endorsed spending plan calls for using $808,500 from the school's unrestricted fund balance to keep the tax increase minimal.
Board members Linda Marcella, Richlene Morey and Board President John MicGlire voted to reduce the tax levy increase to zero by drawing an additional $157,000 from savings. Board members Laura Danna, Jim Carrion, Beth Callahan, and board vice president Dean Moore voted against the measure, and endorsed the administration's plan, which was opposed by Marcella, Morey and MicGlire.
Linda Marcella said local taxpayers needed as much tax relief as possible, citing figures illustrating how homeowners in neighboring school districts pay many hundreds of dollars less in school taxes for a $150,000 home.
Board member Laura Danna, however, responded that any additional budget cutting might put the district's programs at risk in upcoming years as the school board again struggles to keep the budget flat.
"My concern is, if we take the increase down to zero, do we have to shut down our school because we didn't plan ahead?" she said, citing Superintendent Tim Lawson's earlier warning that drawing down the school's savings - as several board members had suggested - might leave the school district insolvent in two and a half years. An 8 percent tax increase was likely for 2012-13 due to increasing expenses, he and School Business Administrator Cynthia Turcotte predicted.
School Beth Callahan agreed with Danna about the negative consequences of further cuts, noting that the school district had kept the taxes flat over the past several years by cutting programs like Drivers Education, Ski Club, plus Young Scholars and other offerings for high-achieving students.
"In past years, we've already asked students to give up a lot," she said.
The school district had its state aid projection boosted by about $51,000 this week due to state legislative action. Several members of the school board sought to have that amount subtracted from the local tax levy, but school administrators balked at the idea, noting that state aid was fluid and the sum might be needed to balance out an unexpected shortfall.
Lawson argued to minimize spending from fund balance to assure money for contingencies and to soften the blow from future state aid reductions.
Turcotte estimated the district's current unrestricted fund balance now totals about $1.7 million, about $1 million more than the state's recommended cap of 4 percent of current total appropriations.
The endorsed budget restores the positions and programs proposed to be cut under a more austere budget under consideration last month. This prior budget eliminated Junior Varsity sports and JV coaching positions and all cheerleading squads, as well as retaining a middle-school technology instructor, a school psychologist, the greeter at the high school, a study hall monitor, and a remedial reading teacher.
These reinstatements, undertaken due to recent public outcry, boosted the budget by about $160,000. Two teaching posts, however, were eliminated Monday, but the two teachers in question have been reassigned to other posts vacated by retirements.
New board candidate emerges
In addition to the proposed budget, the school board seat of Linda Baker Marcella will also be up for election May 17. The post is a four-year term beginning July 1.
She filed a petition last week for re-election to the post.
Announcing her candidacy Tuesday morning was Terri Leguire of Jenni Jill Drive in Warrensburg. She is a stay-at-home mother of a WCS 8th grader, with 10 years' experience in banking. She has been active in school activities, having served as a homeroom mother, a member of several school-based committees, and an organizer of the school's dance marathon.
The deadline for filing candidacy petitions for the position is 5 p.m. Monday, April 18.