SCHROON LAKE - Painful budget decisions have teachers and parents on edge in the Schroon Lake Central School District.
With student enrollment trending downward-leaving some lower elementary classrooms with as little as seven pupils-the relatively new school board is faced with the challenge of phasing in reductions in the number of classes per grade.
Whether any classrooms will be consolidated this year remains an open question, but declining tax revenue and state aid, along with looming costs for ongoing school renovations, have put pressure on its administrators to cut costs.
The school board identified about 45 possible cuts in expenditures in a document obtained by the Teachers Association through a Freedom of Information Law request. Several items were given priority over others, such as elimination of teaching positions, reductions in teacher supplies and field trips.
During a board of education meeting on March 25, Teachers Association President Mary Gereau asked school board members if they had decided whether to cut any teachers.
School Board President John Armstrong responded that no final decisions had been made.
"The budget is being decided in one month," Gereau said. "It's awfully late to be making such drastic decisions and it concerns me that you don't know the answer to that yet."
One parent at the meeting asked that staff decisions be made in public.
"It seems like there's a cloak of secrecy behind this process," said Chris Savarie, adding that he's concerned about the school's fiscal outlook. "I think we're headed for a train wreck; if not this year, than next year."
Gereau pointed out that the incoming class of kindergartners this year will be at least 18 students per class, up from previous years. She said this improving trend might continue, and that it would be unwise to reduce teaching staff at this time.
Superintendent Mike Bonnewell countered that the average size of the graduating class is around 30 students, signaling a declining student enrollment over the long-term, but he turned to the school board to decide whether to cut teaching positions.
"Those are the kinds of decisions you as a board have to make," he said.
No budget resolutions were made during the meeting, but Armstrong said any discussions about staff cuts would likely be held in open session. The board plans on holding a series of special meetings before submitting its final budget proposal on April 22.
In other business, the school board voted to approve the purchase of two new HEPA air filters for one of its kindergarten classes. The teacher and some of the parents reported that several of the children have been affected by allergies. The air quality of the school has been called into question by at least one board member who said renovation work is creating dust and other allergens.
"With all the stuff that's blowing through here I'm surprised there aren't more problems," said school board member Tina Armstrong. "If I were a parent, I would insist" that the new filters be installed.
Other potential air quality concerns involve new discoveries of asbestos in the older section of the school. These are expected to be removed over spring break from April 9-16, when children are not in the building. The asbestos abatement will take place in the boiler room, second floor corridors and other isolated areas of the school. Testing teams will be on site to perform ongoing air quality monitoring. Other construction work on the school is in various stages of completion and the school expects to spend about $1.8 million for renovation work next year.