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Canton school budget calls for 4.69 percent tax levy hike

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By SUSAN MENDE

CANTON - Property owners in the Canton Central School District would have to shell out 4.69 percent more in school taxes next year under a 2012-13 budget adopted by the school board Monday evening in an 8-1 vote.

Next year’s budget would increase the school tax rate to $19.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The existing rate is $18.63.

The $23,266,223 spending plan also trims 24.4 jobs, including 12.5 teaching positions, seven teaching assistants and other staff. The job cuts include nine employees who are retiring and won’t be replaced.

District residents head to the polls May 15 to vote on the budget and cast their ballot for three school board seats.

Starting off the budget discussion, Dr. Brian R. Kerrigan, a physician and parent, said the district will likely be forced to make many more job cuts next year because employee health insurance and pensions will continue to drive up costs.

He faulted district’s employees, including the teacher’s union, for refusing to make concessions that would help save jobs and programs from the chopping block.

“We’re financing a system where most people don’t pay for their health insurance. That’s driving us over a cliff,” Dr. Kerrigan said. “As an outside observer, it seems to me, either people involved in the negotiations don’t understand the situation or cynically they’re saying ‘we’re going to get what we can and get out while the going is good.’”

School board member Angelique W. Santimaw cast the only vote against the budget, saying that she couldn’t support cutting teachers in core subject areas while other non-mandated jobs and all sports teams were kept intact.

“I didn’t have an answer when people asked why we were keeping non-mandated programs and sending English teachers out the door,” Mrs. Santimaw said.”In my opinion, we’re sending a message that athletics is more important than reading, writing and mathematics.”

School Superintendent William A. Gregory said enough teaching staff has been retained to keep all advanced placement classes in the high school and cover the other core courses.

School board President Barbara B. Beekman said she feels the class sizes will be increasing to an acceptable level.

Mr. Gregory said the future of sports “is a very difficult issue” and should involve a wider group of community members.

“It’s not something that can be solved in a two-week period. I think it has to be done in a very deliberate way,” Mr. Gregory said.

The 4.69 percent tax levy increase is the maximum the district can enact under the state’s tax cap limit. In order to exceed the tax cap, the budget would need approval from at least 60 percent of voters,

School board member Margaret A. Sweeney said she supported exceeding the tax cap and felt most voters in Canton would agree, but several other school board members said they were unwilling to take the risk.

If the budget failed to win 60 percent of the votes, the district would be forced to keep the tax levy at this year’s level, which would require trimming the budget by another $359,051. Despite the tax rate hike, overall spending is slated to decrease by $400,767 next year, a 1.69 percent reduction from this year’s $23.7 million budget.

School board members Shannon D. Mattice and Phillip J. Burnett Sr. said they were unwilling to exceed the tax cap, partly due to the lack of concessions from employee unions.

“This budget is a last-ditch effort to maintain a rich program here. I’m grateful it’s not worse,” Mrs. Mattice said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t make more in-roads in negotiations.”

Showing the impact of the tax increase, Mr. Gregory said owners of a home assessed at $100,000 with the basic STAR exemption would see school taxes increase by $61 next year, going from $1,304 to $1,365.

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