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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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SLC board members want tax levy increase between 3.2 and 3.5 percent

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BRASHER FALLS — They could present voters with a maximum 4.3 percent tax levy increase under state tax cap rules, but St. Lawrence Central School District Board of Education members say they prefer to go lower for their 2012-13 budget.

In a special session last week, board members said their preference is a tax levy increase of 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent.

“If we’re the highest in the county, there’s no way” the budget will pass, board member Jonathan Burnett said. “If we’re in the middle, we might get it. Last year, a lot of people were looking at what other schools were doing.”

“I’m hoping the roundtables opened up some eyes,” board Vice President Rhonda Shorette-Peets said, referring to three community budget forums the district held recently to explain the financial difficulties schools are facing.

“We could ask for 4.3. That’s what the state allows,” she said.

“I don’t know if there’s a sense on the board that could be problematic,” Superintendent Stephen M. Putman said.

He said other St. Lawrence County schools were going out with similar numbers. In Massena, he said, voters will be asked to approve a 3 percent tax levy increase, while Potsdam is looking at two scenarios, including a 2.9 percent increase.

“Unfortunately, the vernacular is 2 percent, but it’s not 2 percent,” he said.

Following last week’s release of state aid figures for school districts, Mr. Putman said he fine-tuned the numbers for St. Lawrence Central’s spending plan. The $18.8 million budget proposal is a $132,000 decrease from last year’s $18.9 million spending plan that had been rejected by voters twice. That initial budget carried a tax levy increase of 16.1 percent, which was whittled down to 11.9 percent for the second vote.

The recommendations he presented to board members Wednesday were to not replace one math teacher who would be on military leave next year, to cut one elementary teacher’s assistant and to realign other elementary positions to equate to two other teacher cuts — a total of four positions.

The moves mean that two elementary grade levels will have fewer classes, but at a time when numbers are down for those grades, according to Mr. Putman.

The total savings with the cuts is more than $197,500, Mr. Putman said.

If additional cuts are needed, he said, officials likely would consider reducing the number of fifth-grade classes from four to three. Modified sports also could get a look, reductions in which could save approximately $29,000, according to the superintendent.

In addition to the cuts, he said, the district is using approximately $850,000 of its fund balance and approximately $350,000 of its employee retirement reserves to bridge the gap.

Board member Robert Dow said that despite the cuts, there may be some people in the community who will question what concessions are being made by teachers.

“The first thing they’re going to ask is what concessions have teachers taken. I think it’s ‘show me what sacrifices they’ve had to make,’” he said.

Mr. Putman pointed out that members of the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers had voted affirmatively as part of last year’s budget process to increase their contributions to health insurance premiums, with every active member of the union paying approximately $700 a year for health insurance, including individual plans.

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