PLATTSBURGH — It started with roughly $600,000 in cuts for the 2009-10 school year, a model academic program suffering as the nation struggled through the Great Recession.
It would eventually surpass $6 million, leaving a trail of educational components in its wake.
This year, it continued, until some Plattsburgh school officials could stand no more. They couldn’t stop all the cuts, but they were unwilling to completely ravage the school district’s programs.
“Each year gets more difficult, with less and less to remove,” said Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short.
In a 5 to 3 vote, the Plattsburgh City School Board decided to exceed its tax cap this year, choosing to save programs for students over continued cuts to reduce costs.
The board adopted a 2012-13 budget that totaled $38,388,474, a decrease of 0.03 percent from the current spending plan.
It carries a projected tax-levy increase of 5.82 percent. The district’s tax-levy increase is caped by the state at 3.01 percent, which means the 2012-13 spending plan must garner approval from at least 60 percent of voters in order to be implemented.
“The state has us between a rock and a hard place,” Short said.
Making cuts has become standard procedure for Plattsburgh school officials.
“We have made significant cuts each year from 2009-10 to now,” Short said.
They cut roughly $600,000 in 2009-10. The following school year they reduced the budget by $1,558,215. In 2011-12, the budget was slashed by $1,772,825.
“Much of that is forgotten by many people,” Short said, “but some cuts were very painful.”
Previous eliminations and reductions have included a wide assortment of secondary course offerings that were consolidated or offered in alternate years, business electives, music, foreign languages, GED coursework, guided study halls, athletics, staff development, summer curriculum, summer guidance, secondary summer school, drug/alcohol prevention, the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, the Dean of Students, education technology coordinator and equipment purchases. The district has also cut or reduced bus purchases, intramural sports, support staff, speech services, and special education.
“This is a reminder of where we have already been,” Short said. “It is an illustration of the whittling away of the high school you built.”
“We are sick and tired of all these reductions,” he said.
For the 2012-13 budget, the board faced a $1.7 million deficit if it opted to remain within the tax cap, putting programs and services at risk.
The adopted budget preserves pre-kindergarten, pre-engineering, Odyssey, music, full-day kindergarten and foreign languages.
Still, the spending plan the board approved eliminates two math teachers, two English teachers, one social studies teacher, one groundskeeper, one monitoring position, two clerical jobs, five teaching assistants, one custodian and assistant coaching positions for boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer. The cuts further impacted basketball, softball, baseball, field trips, gymnastics, modified-B volleyball and the high school’s after school program.
Plattsburgh school officials also plan to spend less on special education services, bringing many students back from Champlain Valley Educational Services.
But if 60 percent of voters do not vote for the budget on May 15, the district will have to make another round of cuts.
Board member Steven Sullivan was not present at the meeting, while Clayton Morris, Fred Wachtmeister and Tracy Rotz voted against the budget.
Morris and Wachtmeister favored saving even more programs, while Rotz felt more should be cut.