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Ogdensburg City School faces tough budget cuts

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Facing a $1.5 million budget gap for the 2013-2014 school year, Ogdensburg City School Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey presented the Board of Education with a list of potential budget cuts.

“All of them will be devastating,” Mr. Vernsey said of the cuts.

The list of potential cuts includes eliminating secondary social studies, a half-time music position, Odyssey of the Mind, a level of athletics, summer marching band, a full-time math position, a half-time art position, a full-time high school science, technology, business, early intervention reading and physical education positions, reducing French to a half-time position and cutting two staff positions at the dome.

This is on top of 8 cuts already scheduled at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, and more than 50 cuts made since 2007.

Mr. Vernsey said, if these cuts go into effect, class sizes will increase and the quality of education at Ogdensburg will decline.

“The problem is not efficiency,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Mr. Vernsey placed the blame firmly with the state.

“The problem we are experiencing is not a local problem,” Mr. Vernsey said, “It’s a state aid problem.”

Mr. Vernsey noted that, because of cuts to education funding by the state, Ogdensburg is currently receiving roughly $1.55 million less than if funding had been maintained at 2008-2009 levels. That decrease results from the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“The state is balancing the budget on the backs of school children,” Mr. Vernsey said.

And while this year’s executive budget proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo contains a $364,634 increase over last year’s state aid package for Ogdensburg, it includes a $1.1 million reduction in the final amount.

“The governor will tell you he’s giving us a 4.4 percent increase [in state aid],” Mr. Vernsey said. But he noted that, not including building aid which will be immediately directed to debt services, the district is looking at a 1.2 percent increase in state aid this year.

“This simply can’t go on or else you’re going to dismantle public education as we know it,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Ogdensburg Education Association President David G. Price said, “While the problem isn’t local, I’m hoping the solution will be.”

The school and the Education Association are gearing up for contract negotiations.

Mr. Price said the school should apply more than the proposed $1.4 million of fund balance to this year’s budget to preserve jobs.

“If we have it, shuffle it back in,” Mr. Price said.

Mr. Vernsey agreed that applying more fund balance is an option.

“Can we appropriate more than $1.4 million in fund balance? I say yes,” Mr. Vernsey said.

“When you start doing these kinds of cuts you really get to a point where you’re educationally insolvent,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Mr. Vernsey said he hopes the state will kick back more money in state aid, but added that he won’t know the final numbers until the state passes its budget. The state budget is due April 1.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting the Statewide School Finance Consortium’s 2013 legislative priorities, including eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

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