Participants and school board members read the thoughts and ideas posted on the wall of those who gathered for Plattsburgh City School’s Stakeholders’ Roundtable Budget Forum.
The group did not gather to come to a consensus.
Nor was it formed to launch into an intense debate.
“We want to make sure at each table everybody has a fair chance to say your piece,” said Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short. “We want to make sure one person doesn’t dominate over another.”
More than 60 people gathered on Jan. 25 at the Duken administrative building as part of the district’s Stakeholders’ Roundtable Budget Forum. The new outreach process was designed to provide school officials with insight into community sentiment as the school board navigates a challenging budget process.
School officials have had a tough time creating budgets for the past few years as state aid shrinks and expenses soar. Many districts have cut programs and laid off staff, and educators at some have done without raises to salvage their education programs.
This budget season is expected to be one of the toughest yet as districts have depleted fund balance and will likely have no choice but to make further painful cuts.
Plattsburgh City Schools wants community input before the school board votes on a 2012-13 spending plan.
The Roundtable Budget Forum targeted a cross-section of the district’s varied constituents.
At the forum, participants were seated in small groups and asked to reflect on school data they had read. They were further asked to discuss a series of general questions that were intended to yield information about community wants and constraints.
“You are going to see a lot of common interests, and a lot of different points of view,” Short said during the event. “That is healthy.
“The board will have access to look at the information so they can have your thoughts and voices in their minds when they are making the decisions they are elected to do.”
Participants voiced an array of concerns, including salvaging non-mandated programs for at-risk and gifted students, arts and music programs and ensuring class sizes are manageable.
Some also voiced concerns for taxpayers already stressed to the breaking point. Indeed, agencies such as the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity and Social Services have reported an increase in the number of people requesting services. Many of these individuals and families cannot afford tax increases.
“I wanted to see how the process was going to work,” said Margaret Courson, who has three children in the district. “There are some programs that kept us here, and I am nervous about losing those programs.”
School Board member David Stone said the process was something the district should institutionalize.
“It gives the board a clear sense of expectations and perceptions from various constituents,” he said. “I like that our role is to listen.”
“We are here to listen to the people before the budget is out there,” agreed board member Clayton Morris. “One of the things I notice is people were not talking about cutting programs, but wanting to keep the quality of education of Plattsburgh City School.”