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PCS ptting together list of potential cuts to study for this year and beyond

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POTSDAM - The Potsdam Central School Board of Education will be creating a “laundry list” of cost savings ideas, both for this year and future years.

Among the ideas to be placed on the list, although the board and administration have agreed that it’s not going to happen this year, is the closure of AA Kingston Middle School.

“We have to have a final budget to present to the board by April 3,” said Superintendent Patrick H. Brady. “That’s a month away. What would it cost? What would we save? That’s a study all in itself.”

AA Kingston Principal James M. Cruikshank noted that Watkins Glen recently closed its middle school building while still managing to maintain the middle school structure.

“Their middle school didn’t go away. It’s just in a new space,” he said, explaining their high school had enough space that with some reshuffling they were able to give the middle school a wing of the building.

“This is probably at least a year-long process,” according to Christopher C. Cowen, a member of the school board’s buildings and grounds committee.

Mr. Cowen also pointed out as a building built in the 1970s the middle school is actually the district’s newest facility.

“The middle school is our newest building. To me it makes no sense to close it,” he said. “The group of students there need to be kept together, not divided into the high school and elementary school.”

Sandra Morris, a former board of education member, said everything that’s slated to be cut should be placed on that list with the consequences of each cut looked at thoroughly.

“How are we going to continue to provide a music program when we’re cutting two teachers?” she asked, giving just one example of cuts that are slated to be made this year.

At a previous meeting when the cuts were initially discussed, it was noted that the loss of two music teachers would lead to the elimination of the fourth grade band and possibly the high school orchestra.

Board of education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. said one cut he would like to take a closer look at is the high school Latin teacher. That cut will force many students currently taking Latin to have to switch to Spanish or French.

“I’m concerned about how that could affect their overall grades,” he said. “I would like to see the Latin teacher put back in.”

Mr. Cowen agreed. “Two years ago we talked about cutting it, and the board was lobbied and convinced to bring it back,” he said. “If we were going to cut it, we should have cut it last year.”

Mr. Cowen explained the board again looked at cutting the position and the teacher in that role ultimately left the district. They however, hired another Latin teacher.

Mr. Turbett then suggested possibly expanding the Latin program, should the decision to bring it back once again be made.

“If we bring back the Latin position has there been any discussion about having Latin in the middle school?”

Mr. Cowen then suggested looking into distance learning, not as a user, but as a provider.

“There are two ways to improve the budget situation, generate revenue or reduce expenses,” he said, adding he understands no other schools in the area currently have a Latin program.

“It doesn’t have to be here though. It could be in Missouri or anywhere,” he said.

Another suggestion made by Mr. Cowen was taking a closer look at field trips.

“My third grader went on a wonderful field trip to Lake Placid,” he said. “That’s a bus, and I’m not sure what other costs are associated with that, but that’s something we could do without.”

Given the projections for increased class sizes and approximately 20 teaching positions to be cut, Mr. Stone said now was the time to look at things the district offers outside the classroom, such as their teacher center and curriculum coordinator.

“As far as I know, we’re the only district to have those,” he said. “That puts another teacher back in the classroom. At this point we can’t continue to fund them when it’s taking teachers out of the classroom.”

Mr. Stone also suggested taking a closer look at many of the budget’s line items and reducing the amount of money they expect to have left in the budget at the end of year.

“When we’re putting $1.1 million back those are teacher positions we could of had back,” he said.

Ms. Morris agreed, “If we only had $500,000 left what would that mean?” she asked.

Ms. Morris also suggested asking the public for permission to withdraw funds from their capital project reserve, which Business Manager Laura Hart has a balance of $882,233.

While the district is using money from some of their other reserves, the fact that utilizing finds from the capital reserve required voter approval, as at least at this point, prevented her from budgeting those funds.

“We would need voter approval so that has not been looked at,” she said.

Mr. Cowen even suggested taking a whole new approach to the budgeting process.

“I think we build the budget backwards,” he said, explaining the district currently puts everything into their budget and then decides what to cut.

Mr. Cowen suggested starting with the state requirements, seeing how much that would cost and then adding items into the budget until they reach their desired tax levy.

“I graduated from this high school and from the time I graduated until now the number of classes is 10-fold. I think we’re at a point where we can’t afford that anymore.”

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