SCHROON LAKE - The Schroon Lake Central School Board of Education is asking voters on May 17 to pass a proposed 2011-12 budget that includes cutting some positions and extracurricular activities while keeping the spending increase to less than 1 percent and the tax increase to about 2.3 percent.
The proposed 2011-12 Schroon Lake school budget totals $7,352,379. That's an increase of $65,966 - 0.91 percent - from the current spending plan of $7,286,413.
The proposed tax levy for 2011-12 is $5,862,870. That's a $130,957 increase - 2.28 percent - from the present levy of $5,731,913.
It's too early to figure the 2011-12 tax rate per $1,000 assessed if the budget passes, according to School Superintendent Gerald Blair, as the town's assessment roll won't be approved until the summer. The current tax rate is $6.85 per $1,000 assessed.
The School Board instructed Blair to draft a spending plan that would keep spending down, he said.
"They did not want to go above 1 percent," Blair said.
This year, the School Board was faced with drafting a spending plan while dealing with increases in the retirement systems, unemployment payments, fuel prices and other operational expenses.
Plus, there will be less state and federal aid available in the coming year. The school district will see $817,009 in state aid in 2011-12, a decrease of $157,991 from the current aid package of $975,000.
Before any cuts were made, Blair said the school district was about $480,000 "in the hole." If the district didn't make any cuts, the spending increase would have been between 5 and 8 percent, he said. And that was too high, given the School Board's goal.
In order to help make up for the shortfall, School Board members agreed to use $625,000 of fund balance, an increase of $100,000 from the current budget.
But that was not enough, and the School Board is proposing major changes to personnel to help save money.
In 2011-12, the school would not fill three positions after retirements at the end of the current school year: a bus driver, a custodian and a secretary.
Additionally, three positions would be cut by 20 percent, or one day per week: an art teacher, the director of pupil personnel and an occupational therapist.
And three positions would be cut in half: the instrumental band teacher, the librarian, and the family and consumer sciences (home economics) teacher.
One retiring reading teacher's position will be filled, Blair said.
The Schroon Lake Teachers Association - led by President Laura Corey, who teaches social studies for grades 10-12 - opposes the staffing cuts.
"We can't afford these cuts," Corey said. "They do not allow us to provide a quality education. We only get one opportunity to provide a quality education for our students and this is not going to happen (with the staff cuts)."
Despite misgivings about the proposed budget, the Teachers Association is not asking residents to vote one way or another on May 17. Corey herself is still undecided.
"Either way, it's bad for the kids," she said.
In order to get spending down to a 1 percent increase while keeping the school operating, some staff cuts were inevitable, Blair said, adding that the school won't be able to offer all the same courses it offers now, but they will try to keep the cuts to about four classes.
"We're going to try to maximize the number of courses we can offer," Blair said.
No concessions were made by the Schroon Lake Teachers Association to ease the tax burden this year, as the contract talks between School Board and the Schroon Lake Teachers Association "didn't move forward," Blair said. Formal negotiations for next year's contract will begin on May 17. The contract expires June 30.
Non-teaching staff opted to take Plan B on their health insurance plan, thereby saving the district some money, according to Blair.
In the future, Corey said she would like to see the School Board take a more "proactive approach" working with the Teachers Association on the budget, starting the process earlier and having "more consistent planning."
Schroon Lake Central has 243 students and employs 57 people full- and part-time. There are 30 members in the Teachers Association.
Asked what the Teachers Association would suggest the School Board cut in the budget instead of staff, Corey said, "We'd rather not see any cuts."
On the extracurricular side, the School Board proposes cutting the cheerleading program and junior varsity basketball. And the middle and high school Student Councils will also be combined into one Student Council for grades 7-12.
Schroon Lake Central voters will be asked to make a total of three decisions next week: to approve the budget, to elect a School Board member, and to lease a bus.
Voters will fill one, five-year seat on the School Board as Ellen Garland, vice president of the board, is running for re-election. She is being challenged by Kimberly Bauer.
Residents will also decide whether to spend no more than $18,000 for a five-year (maximum) lease on a 65-passenger school bus. The district is making a transition from purchasing buses to leasing them, saving an estimated $10,500 per bus over its "life."
Voting will take place from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, in the lobby of the Schroon Lake Central School.