WARRENSBURG - As local high school students and their parents resumed pleas Monday to retain programs and positions at their school in the face of pending budget cuts, Warrensburg School District administrators announced ways they'd save a few faculty jobs while cutting expenses.
They'll be accomplishing the feat in the 2011-2012 school year by teaching more children on the WCS campus rather than sending them to a regional BOCES campus for instruction and services. Eliminating the contracted expense will more than cover the costs of additional local personnel by nearly $65,000, school officials told the public Monday at a budget workshop.
This change reduces a former projected tax rate increase for 2011-12 from 2.05 percent to 1.92 percent.
The increase is primarily due to a projected loss of about $1 million in state aid. Under the plan, overall spending in the district would be reduced by 3.44 percent to about $18.3 million.
The shift to teaching five more students with various specialized issues locally means the high school psychologist and two teaching assistants, plus one special education teacher, would all be retained.
The students would also have a more amenable school day due to reduced travel time, Superintendent of Schools Tim Lawson said.
Still on the chopping block are the cheerleading program and all Junior Varsity sports, a hot-button issue that prompted dozens of students to attend the meeting, and a half-dozen of them to voice their opinions.
A half-dozen students testified on behalf of retaining Junior Varsity sports programs.
Seventh graders Kerri Fino and Amber Davis said the pending proposal to have Junior Varsity level players be reassigned to either modified or Varsity teams would force coaches to cut that many more students off team rosters.
Fino said she had just begun practice on a modified team with 24 girls, and the coach was planning to trim that number to 15 active players.
"How many more people will they have to cut when you add 35 more students?" she asked. "They will have nothing to do."
She said that Junior Varsity sports were important to her peers and kept them involved and occupied.
"It's something we really need and enjoy in our school," she said.
Tenth Grader Megan Pierce said that involvement in sports helped nurture the qualities of leadership and determination and prompt responsible behavior in students. She said her family chose to move to Warrensburg because of the school's offerings, and she wanted to fight for the younger students to have the sports opportunities she enjoyed at WCS.
"Students elsewhere don't have the chance we do up here, and they are more likely to get into the 'lows' like smoking and drinking," she said. "Sports gives you skills to get a job and be successful in life."
Another speaker noted that the money that taxpayers shell out for several day's worth of beer and cigarettes would bankroll the entire Junior Varsity sports program.
Various parents testified that the WCS special education teachers and school psychologists - including Isobel Munoff, whose job was on the block - had made the difference between success and failure in their children's lives.
But Town Board member Bryan Rounds urged the school board to continue budget-trimming efforts. He said he'd heard from many members of the public that they'd "had enough" of high taxes.
"We've got to find a way to keep the burden off the elderly, those living on limited incomes - and the young people so they can afford to buy a home here, work here and be a part of our community," Rounds said. "This is what's paramount here."
Local resident Michael Curry said that ever-rising taxes were now forcing many elderly taxpayers on limited incomes to choose between paying for needed medicine, heating fuel or food. He added that Junior Varsity sports could be retained if the school coaching staff agreed to a one-third cut in their coaching stipends, paid in addition to their instructional salaries.
He suggested that parents whose children were involved in sports could pay directly for them. WCS Superintendent Tim Lawson said such an arrangement was illegal.
Adding that he believed in the value of a strong sports program, Curry volunteered to donate $300 for two students to participate.
Curry praised the WCS administrators for accepting a pay freeze last year to keep taxes stable, and suggested that teachers might consider doing likewise in order to save the faculty positions now facing elimination.
He noted that since 1970, student enrollment in the region has decreased an average of 31 percent, but the numbers of teachers had increased 34 percent.
"I think we can operate with a little less and still do well," he said.
Resident Linda Apple, who has sent nine of her children through Warrensburg's school system, took issue with Curry's argument, noting that the hefty increase in teachers was due to "No Child Left Behind" mandates enacted over the last 40 years.
"I've had it 'up to here' with people who sell their homes downstate and move up here and complain about school taxes but they don't have kids in school, she said. "A lot of them say they can't pay the taxes but they still take their trips to Florida. The issue here is a matter of providing the basics for our kids."