WARRENSBURG - Local high school students, parents and teachers showed up in force Monday night to express concerns over the Warrensburg Central School District budget, which calls for cutting 12 employees and eliminating Junior Varsity sports and cheerleading.
Monday, March 14, the Warrensburg Central Board of Education and school administrators presented a 2010-11 budget that calls for a 3.5 percent reduction in spending, but an estimated 2.05 percent increase in local property taxes. That sum would amount to $42 per family living in a $150,000 home, Superintendent of Schools Tim Lawson said.
While parents of pupils and students themselves generally voiced impassioned pleas to keep programs and personnel intact, several taxpayers said they supported the cuts, or wanted further reductions.
The draft budget, prepared by school administrators in the face of a projected $1.26 million cut in State Aid for WCS, calls for spending $18.37 million in 2011-12.
One student after another pleaded for the board to retain Junior Varsity sports programs, citing that they offer vital experience in teamwork, and nurture confidence and leadership skills.
"Our JV sports program helps us learn to set and achieve goals," high schooler Aineen Callahan said. Students making such pleas included Kerrigan Roth and Cregan Callahan. Applause and cheers punctuated the students remarks.
Board member Richlene Morey proposed to keep the 2011-12 tax rate capped at a zero percent increase, adopt the suggested cuts, and take the $160,000 or so needed to retain a flat tax rate out of district reserve funds. The administrators' proposal already calls for $649,000 to be drawn from reserve funds.
Citizens Budget Advisory Committee member Mike Curry, while voicing support for such a zero-increase budget, advocated retaining JV sports, citing their high participation rate and positive influence on character development. He suggested that all coaches take a one-third cut in their coaching stipends - paid on top of their salaries - to save the JV programs.
"Coaches - are your hearts in your bank accounts, or with the kids?" he said.
Resident Mary Eaton disagreed with Curry on capping taxes, voicing support for restoring the amounts cut in personnel and programs.
"To think we can keep taxes to a zero percent increase is crazy," she said, adding that area residents want to retain the quality of education. She noted that WCS has been ranked in the top fifth of all public schools in the Capital Region. She added that Warrensburg teachers earned their salaries.
"The teachers' salaries are not exorbitant," she said.
Several people suggested that parents launch sports booster clubs to support the athletic programs in the school.
Proposed personnel changes under the draft budget call for eliminating security monitor positions at both schools, cutting two night cleaner positions and shifting two day janitors into their posts.
Several citizens speaking out suggested novel ways of balancing the budget.
School Board Member Jim Carrion and Citizens Budget Advisory Board member Sheila Mender proposed that the elementary school building be sold, and all students, kindergarten through grade 12, be instructed in the high school building to save personnel and fuel costs. Carrion said students could be taught in double shifts.
Lawson said later that such a proposal was not possible under existing state laws governing school facilities, but if such an measure were undertaken, about half the district's students would be attending classes until 8 p.m. or so.
Among those speaking out was Technology instructor Brandon Donato, whose position is under consideration for elimination.
"This is not about me, it's about the kids and their education," he said. "I will survive, but the kids need their classes to get their life skills."
School board member Laura Danna advocated to retain the teachers and programs.
"We've had two years of zero-percent increases, and I'm very concerned this is going to effect students and the quality of education we offer," she said.
Board member Beth Callahan echoed the point.
"Many people in this room would walk up to the table now and hand over $42 or more to keep our programs in place," she said, suggesting that the community form a booster club, or parents pay a minimal participation fees to help offset the costs of sports offered by the school.
School board president John MicGlire suggested that teachers voluntarily take a freeze in pay. Presently, they are scheduled for a 1.87 percent increase which reflects their basic annual longevity increase only. He said such a wage concession could make a "huge" difference in the budget.
"Everybody could take a little pain rather than a few taking a lot of pain," he said. "I'd like the teachers to help themselves by taking a pay freeze."
Teachers union president Mark Mularz refused to comment on the idea of teachers forgoing pay increases.
"I can't discuss anything dealing with negotiations," he said.
The next meeting to discuss the budget is set for 7 p.m. Monday March 21.
Adoption of the budget is slated for April 11, and the public is to vote on it May 17.