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PCS finance committee begins reviewing cuts

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POTSDAM - Facing a $1.3 million budget deficit, the Potsdam Central School District’s Finance Committee began looking at ways to fill the deficit Monday night.

Among the options reviewed by the committee was the relocation of either eighth-grade students to the high school or ninth-grade students to the middle school. According to a joint presentation by middle school Principal Jamie Cruikshank and high school Principal Joann M. Chambers, either option would save the district $779,158, savings that would account for nearly 60 percent of the district’s deficit.

While financially the district would save money, that doesn’t mean either principal thought it was a good idea.

In a jointly written memo presented to the board, Ms. Chambers and Mr. Cruikshank wrote, “Though each scenario is technically possible, none of the scenarios represent our recommendations. Each would bring devastating effects to our educational programming and could have detrimental impact on the culture and climate of the two buildings.”

By moving eighth graders into the high school, the pair noted 10.7 positions could be eliminated, including two teachers from each of the four core departments (English, math, science and social studies), a .2 reduction in art, a full-time music teacher through attrition and a middle school physical education teacher through attrition.

Ms. Chambers said the results of these cuts would be increased class sizes and some creative scheduling.

“No matter how you shake it, a lot of teachers would be teaching classes they’ve never taught before,” she said, adding with the new teacher evaluation system now is not a good time to be introducing teachers to new classes.

Mr. Cruikshank also noted a realignment would only be possible because this year’s eighth-grade class is, as Ms. Chambers put it, “the smallest in the district’s history.”

“While we have this small dip, we can talk about this,” he said. “Once those small classes go through and the numbers go back up, you’re running into a whole other set of issues.”

Moving the ninth graders into the middle school could possibly result in the reduction of 10.5 positions with the same teaching posts being cut, except instead of reducing art a high school art teacher would be assigned to the elementary school, freeing up the middle school teacher to teach the additional art classes there instead of the classes they’re currently teaching at the elementary level.

“We could make some reductions without moving any students,” Ms. Chambers said.

That would be Scenario C, which according to the principals’ presentation would save the district $441,259 and eliminate 6.5 positions between the two buildings.

Those positions would include one teacher from each of the core subjects, a part-time foreign language position, and not replacing the retiring physical education and music teachers.

Also presented to the board was a list of other options, a list of specific positions and how much each would save, as well as the impact of that position’s loss.

Positions listed there included in the high school full-time math teacher or a part-time math teacher, a part-time science teacher, a part-time English teacher and a part-time social studies teacher.

In the middle school that list included the part-time family and consumer sciences teacher, extra-curricular programs (no specific activities were mentioned), and intramurals.

A list of potential cuts at the elementary school included the math lab, extracurriculars such as chorus, art club, year book, LEGO robotics and the AV coordinator, a first and third grade teacher, universal prekindergarten, the school counselor, summer school, alternative physical education, a special education teacher, a reduction in occupational therapy and shifting some special education students away from BOCES programs back into in house programs.

Other potential cuts included the elimination of modified sports or junior varsity sports.

In the food services department, possible cuts could include a cafeteria monitor, three dishwashers, and a cashier at the elementary school.

Potential transportation cuts included a bus driver and the possible reduction in days of the late after school bus run.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said it was important to note that none of these cuts have been made and that this is where the district is starting from.

The budget gap could be further reduced if the district receives additional funding or elects to participate in the state’s pension stabilization program, something they are waiting to hear more information about.

Mr. Brady said the calculation of a $1.3 million budget deficit is based on a 4 percent tax levy increase, which would be .78 percent below their calculated tax cap and the usage of $1.45 million in reserves.

“To be conservative, this is a figure we thought we could put in at this point,” he said, noting that would be $697,546 less than what they used to help balance this year’s budget.

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