The Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education presented its budget proposal during a well attended public meeting Tuesday, but agreed to review public comments before voting on the budget.
The proposed 2011 budget totals $16.57 million dollars, an increase of 5.3 percent from last year. The district's tax levy will rise more than four percent - an amount that would be even higher when adjusted for declines in the district's real estate assessments of about $100 million.
Board members said they faced some hard choices this year, with state aid reductions and rising entitlement and energy costs.
In the proposed budget, some staff members would be cut, including a special education teacher, a teacher's assistant, and a retiring home economics teacher would not be replaced.
These savings were offset by other increasing costs, including the cost of fuel oil and heating oil. The assistant principal will also be retained at an additional cost of $7,000 and a part-time librarian will be added at a cost of $30,000.
But these adjustments don't include the district's biggest cost increases; namely, health care and retirement benefit costs.
Teacher's salary increases take their toll as well. The teacher's union last year conceded to a 2 percent raise instead of their customary 4 percent increase. That saved the district more than $200,000. The school board would not comment on the likelihood of teacher's pay concessions this year, saying only that negotiations were under way.
All told, the budget increased by more than $572,000.
That's a big concern, according to Superintendent Randy Richards.
"We're delaying our tough decisions for another year," he said.
Several members of the public echoed the superintendents concerns about the long-term viability of the school's financial trajectory.
Lake Placid resident Jeff Erenstone said keeping the core teaching staff is a good idea, but insisted that tax increases were a "band-aid" rather than a permanent fix. He advocated for more administrative cost sharing and a hiring freeze on new staff.
Eugene Byrne, a local physician, emphasized the importance of keeping science and math teachers. He also said his son's school bus has only about 5 children on it.
"It's nice that it comes to everyone's house like a limousine service, but couldn't kids meet at a bus stop," Byrne asked? "I'm sure there's a way to save more money on transportation," he added.
A village resident named Dan Leff called the budget a deferment of tough choices. He spoke about the need for "game changing strategies" and offered to participate in a strategic committee that would craft long-range planning and problem solving for the school.
During the meeting, Richards ruled out the idea of sharing services with the other Tri-Lakes school districts for the time being.
School officials floated the idea of sharing services, like summer school and administrative staff, earlier this spring, but Richards cited logistical and contract issues that would delay the effort.
Richards said cost savings would need to be found elsewhere and appealed to the board to consider the implications of continued rising costs.
He said if the school was going to continue increasing spending every year, it would need to start thinking of creative ways to increase its student enrollment.