PLATTSBURGH — Tired of gutting their educational system, Plattsburgh City School officials drew a line in the sand.
They are turning to the public to find out what the community will support before they make any more budget cuts.
If the community passes the budget, what is left and hasn’t already been cut will remain in the city’s public education system. If the public votes it down, they may vote on another budget or the district could adopt a contingency budget, which would mean roughly $1.2 million more in education cuts.
If the budget is defeated twice, the school board must adopt a contingency budget with strict spending limitations and cuts that would significantly alter Plattsburgh's schools.
“That would change the very nature of this district,” said board member Fred Wachtmeister.
District residents can vote on May 15, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the Duken, Momot and Bailey buildings.
School officials are requesting that community members fill out an exit poll that will help guide them in future budgetary decisions.
Plattsburgh City School adopted a 2012-13 budget that totaled $38,388,474, a decrease of 0.03 percent from the current spending plan.
It carries a tax-levy increase of 5.82 percent.
The district’s tax-levy increase is capped by the state at 3.01 percent, which means the 2012-13 spending plan must garner approval from at least 60 percent of voters.
The tax rate is estimated to increase from $21.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $22.62.
Revenues in the spending plan were down nearly 4 percent, and state aid has dropped considerably over the years while costs have soared.
“We have to live within the budget lines if this budget is passed,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short. “We may have to make cuts mid-year just to adjust to anything that comes up.”
The school district is no stranger to cuts. During the 2009-10 school year, it saw $600,000 in cuts due to decreased state aid and rising costs. Reductions in recent years total more than $6 million.
Courses, athletics, positions, and equipment are among the things that have been cut.
“The board drew a line in the sand and was tired of reductions and is asking the community to vote,” Short said. “It is the community’s voice and the community’s choice.”
The 2012-13 budget before voters eliminates positions, reduces guidance services and summer school offerings, cuts spending for field trips and athletic, and contains other budget cuts.
“If the budget fails, we could go to contingency budget or present a second budget,” Short said.
A second failed budget results in an automatic contingency budget, which features no tax levy increase. That would entail many more cuts.
Further cuts would mean more layoffs.
The areas next in line to be eliminated or reduced include music, Odyssey, child advocacy, foreign languages, and summer guidance.
“We are seeing a shift in cost from the state to local communities,” said Wachtmeister, who says that is why school districts and taxpayers are faced with their current struggles.
Short argues that districts have seen no relief from unfunded mandates and that, in fact, they are facing new mandates they are not financially equipped to handle.
School officials said they hear from people who value education and want to support the system and those who are strained by taxes, and that the members of the second group are not necessarily anti-education, but have their backs against the wall financially.
Plattsburgh City School officials have offered to share and merge services with other districts to relieve some of the financial burden.
“I think the same economic climate will be facing the board for a couple years,” Short said.