LAKEGEORGE -Following a trouncing at the polls last week and a contentious public meeting held Monday, May 23, the Lake George Central Board of Education has decided to trim its proposed 2011-12 budget of $20.5 million by about $192,000 and resubmit it to the voters in late June.
The board decided to make these further cuts to reach the amount of spending equal to a state-mandated contingency budget that would be imposed if the voters reject the spending plan again like they did Tuesday May 17 by a gaping and unprecedented 389-911 margin.
After a number of residents urged the board to cut spending in a public meeting May 23, the board convened at 7 a.m. Tuesday May 24 - a time that irked some audience members - and identified areas of the budget likely to undergo cuts.
Although several local residents urged the board to negotiate with the school faculty to accept a temporary reduction in raises or to boost their contribution to their health insurance premiums, the board decided to examine cuts elsewhere: spending on athletics, technology equipment, teaching assistants, summer school staff, classroom supplies, student organizations, and by reassigning an elementary school teacher.
The revised budget, after being reformulated by the school administration, will be presented to the public at 7 p.m. June 7, Superintendent of Schools Patrick Dee said, noting that a public vote on the revised budget is likely to be held June 21.
Members of the audience repeatedly asked the board to lobby teachers to forgo contracted raises or their annual "step" pay increase, or increase their contribution to health care costs upward from 8 percent.
Such cuts would represent $500,000 or more savings to taxpayers, they said, citing that pay raises and benefits in the private sector weren't as generous, particularly considering the state of the economy.
Board member Steven Jackowski was the only person on the panel to express support for exploring such cuts. He suggested not only scrutinizing health care costs, but asking school district retirees to consider changes to their perpetual health care coverage.
Local resident Philip Ostrom asked about the annual "step" pay increases for teachers, which he said represented a $2,700 raise each year on top of contracted raises.
Board member Virginia Etu replied there was little the board could do about them, as such raises were negotiated in the 1980s.
Audience members asked the board at both meetings why the budget continues to go up, and the ratio of teachers to students continues to rise, while enrollment in the schools has recently been declining about 10 percent, and is projected to drop further.
Board members cited personnel pay increases, as well as state mandates, as responsible for the increases.
The defeated budget called for a spending increase of $526,000 or 2.63 percent over 2010-11, which would have increased the tax levy by 3.98 percent. Reducing the budget by $192,000 would cut the tax levy increase to less than 1 percent, school officials said.
At the May 23 public meeting, Dee cited that the administration had already cut - in the initial budget proposal - a variety of planned expenses, including BOCES services, new carpeting, library and teachers supplies, and replacement of gym bleachers. This rejected spending plan cut a guidance counselor, two teaching assistants, and a bus purchase. This plan scrapped a bus purchase, and had shrunk the Jumpstart program to accommodate only Kindergartners.
He noted that a contingency budget would prohibit the district from allowing community groups to use the school buildings or grounds for activities, if doing so would bear any district expense. He said such a state-mandated cap - imposed if the budget is rejected again - would hurt scouting programs, Lake George Youtheatre, AAU basketball, and the Lake George Community Band. The contingency budget would also cut spending on extracurricular activities and some programs, he said. Such mandates, he and board members said, led them to decide to re-submit a trimmed budget rather than adopt a contingency budget.
While an initial vote by the board on Tuesday, May 24 called for cutting the budget by $192,000 and re-submitting it for a public vote, the board rescinded the resolution and re-voted to not specify the sum, after several audience members objected, calling for cuts deeper than $192,000.