The Plattsburgh City School Board listens to a budget presentation by Superintendent James “Jake” Short.
Plattsburgh City School Board member Fred Wachtmeister would send a 13-percent tax-levy increase to the voters way before cutting positions and programs.
Sure, it would tag $70 more on the monthly tax bill of a $200,000 home, but it would save the district’s program from further cuts and reductions.
If the taxpayers won’t support it, fine, he says, but let them decide whether they want to eliminate programs and positions.
“I’m all in favor of not making any cuts and putting it in front of the voters,” said Wachtmeister at the March 8 board meeting.
Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short and his administration must make up a $1.7 million budget gap.
Areas under consideration for elimination and reduction include 9-18 instructional positions and 5 support staff positions.
Programs that could be impacted include secondary course offerings, pre-kindergarten, music, Odyssey, drop out prevention, child advocacy, nursing, foreign languages, special education, BOCES services, secondary co-curricular, kindergarten and athletics.
Short stressed at the school board meeting that the budget is still under consideration and no final decisions have been made.
“This is just the beginning of where we are.”
Budget cuts seem to have become an unavoidable trend for Plattsburgh and other school districts.
In 2009-10, the district removed $600,000 from the budget; in 2010-11, $1,558,215; in 2011-12, $1,772,825; and in 2012-13 the budget gap started at $2.5 million.
Each year it becomes increasingly difficult for school officials to find areas to cut from the budget. And while some reductions were needed, many have been painful, Short said.
Short showed those gathered at the meeting a long list of items that have been cut which barely fit on the screen. He used it as an illustration of the whittling away of the high quality school the community built.
The school board has grown tired of the cutting process, Short said.
The superintendent further discussed a statewide study that indicated Clinton County was among the hardest hit in New York by reductions in state aid.
“There truly is a broken structure to the aid mechanisms in the state of New York.”
The budget he presented worked within the 3.01 percent tax levy cap, which was determined by a specific formula and varies from district to district.
The budget gap is smaller under the most recent budget due to developments in health insurance rates, state aid misrepresentations and budget reductions by Short that did not touch student programs or personnel.
The current budget gap the board must bridge is $1.7 million, though if the spending plan is twice defeated by voters the district would be forced to adopt a contingency budget. Under updated rules, under a contingency budget the tax levy cannot increase over the current levy. That would result in a $2.3 million budget gap for Plattsburgh City School.
A budget with no cuts in it would require a 13 percent increase in the tax levy.
“That’s got a little sting to it,” Short said.
The district may use $1.9 million in fund balance, though that is dwindling down. Short reminded the board and audience that the fund balance is for rainy days, and “we don’t know when it is going to stop raining.”
“We are going to need it next year,” he said. “We will be right back here again.”
Plattsburgh has enjoyed a strong school system and will remain prominent in the area, Short said, but the cuts will be painful if they have to be made.
School Board member Steve Krieg would like to see no cuts, but said the district must put forth a budget that will be voted on by citizens.
Board member Patricia Bentley said the city is dependent on the school district and the education it provides students.
“It is not business as usual,” she said. “It is not going to be a simple cut.”