PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City School officials recently laid off 10 more employees and eliminated a total of 20 positions.
Those cuts are on top of roughly $6 million in spending reductions over the past few years, which have cost many jobs and whittled numerous important educational programs, but the public spoke loud and clear, school officials said, destroying the 2012-13 proposed budget (which carried a 5.8 percent tax levy increase) by a vote of 1,365 to 729 on May 15 and demanding further educational cuts.
The school board will put another budget before voters that carries a 2.84 percent increase in the tax levy.
According to New York State’s tax cap formula, the school district’s tax levy cap is 3.01 percent. The proposed budget needed to pass with a 60 percent super-majority to override the state cap.
Many people who attended the board’s last meeting spoke in support of the district’s schools and asked the board the preserve programs. There were also a few who asked district officials to make cuts.
Plattsburgh’s schools have slashed spending on education for years.
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.
Cuts in the spending plan voters recently defeated included the elimination of two full-time secondary English teachers; two full time secondary math teachers; one full-time secondary social studies teacher; the equivalent of one full-time monitoring position, one full-time grounds-keeping position, one full-time custodial position and two full-time clerical positions; five teaching-assistant positions; and assistant coaching positions for boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer.
School officials opted to surpass the tax levy cap because they were tired of cutting the district’s programs. They wanted to give taxpayers the option of preserving programs before embarking on more extreme austerity measures.
With the budget defeated, school officials had to decide whether to immediately go to a contingency budget, which carries a 0-percent increase in the tax levy, or to put up another budget for voters to decide on.
They opted to create another budget with a smaller proposed tax levy increase.
School board member Clayton Morris suggested a budget with a 2-percent tax levy increase and another $100,000 in cuts to sports spending.
“We are an education system and are not here for sports,” Morris said.
Tracy Rotz disagreed. He supported a 2.84 percent increase in the tax levy with no further cuts to athletics.
In the end, the board decided on a 2.84 percent increase in the tax levy, which comes in below the state tax levy cap of 3.01 percent.
“You’re not going to like some of these reductions,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short.
To get from the 5.8 percent increase to 2.84 percent, the board will have to trim more than $500,000 from the proposed budget.
A contingency budget would require cutting another $600,000-plus on top of that.
If the budget is defeated a second time, the school district must adopt a contingency budget.
The additional cuts are not yet set in stone, but proposed reductions include $150,000 in special education spending, the elimination of engineering classes and reductions in spending on music and Odyssey and child advocacy, the elimination of a dropout prevention program, and the loss of 14 instructional and six non-instructional positions.
School board member Dr. David Stone noted that there was an edge to the May 15 election and a lack of civility in the district.
People lashed out, and he was accosted by someone voting against the budget, he said.
He said that without a quality education, in 10 years former students will end up on the welfare rolls or in prison.
He stressed that there was a depth to the issue that people must understand.
“We cannot compromise our children’s education,” he argued.
Stone called on the public to passionately vote in bigger elections, and hold to account leaders who have failed to deliver a modern, fair and equitable system for funding public education.