Shown above are the Plattsburgh City School district offices. The school district wants community support in the budget process this year.
Officials of Plattsburgh City School want to avoid the sway of narrow interests this budget season.
School district officials will instead establish a committee of concerned stakeholders to help guide the budget process.
“We are looking to do things differently,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short.
“Indeed, this spending plan could be one of the districts most difficult yet, with dwindling state aid, a 2-percent tax cap and soaring costs, programmatic and staff cuts will again be a reality,” Short said.
“I think for all schools for the past three years it has been difficult,” Short said. “When we have made all those reductions already and then another year of low state aid and recognized taxpayer stress, there is really no choice but to be a difficult year.”
For example, three years ago the district reduced the budget by $608,000, the following year $1.5 million and last year $1.7 million. What was reduced three years ago remains out of the picture.
“The first time you do reductions that is the low-hanging fruit, and then it gets harder and harder,” Short said.
He’s not expecting a significant increase in state aid, which in fact will remain behind 2008 levels, and federal stimulus funds have dried up, but there remains the reality of increases in areas such as energy, health insurance, pension contributions and more.
“Those things that are beyond one’s control keep going through the roof,” Short said. “And people need to recognize that while we were doing those reductions we had extra federal money.”
Then there is the 2-percent tax cap, a structural barrier to raising taxes that is determined by a specific formula and which can be overridden by a 60-percent super majority of the school board.
School districts further cannot keep relying on fund balance, if any remains.
“We have been using it for three years,” Short said. “I think it means schools face a difficult budget year once again.”
“I don’t see any possible way schools can avoid layoffs and programmatic cuts.”
But this year will be different than the last three, he said.
“The difference is we have less and less choice. If we tried to hold on to and preserve programs over the last three years, it gets more difficult to avoid taking things away people feel are near and dear.”
That is why the school board is interested in changing the conversation with the community and getting away from examining a list of possible reductions. That doesn’t provide the board with the pulse of the community, but instead is steered by which group brought in the most people to advocate for a particular program.
Toward the end of January, possibly the beginning of February, the board will host a community forum and ask for representation from students, parents, business, retirees, civic groups and more. Members must be city residents and will be asked to come in and tell school officials what they value in education and what they would like to see Plattsburgh City School represent.
“We want it to be a think tank,” Short said. “The school board wants to be listening to the community first and then do the hard position they were elected to do of making decisions about the school.”
“At the end of the day, the public school is to represent the community it serves, and that input is what the board wants to use to make its decisions.”