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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Massena Central schedules March 7 community budget forum

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MASSENA - Massena Central School District residents will have an opportunity to discuss the district’s proposed 2013-14 budget during a community budget forum scheduled for 6 p.m. March 7 at Jefferson Elementary School.

Superintendent Roger B. Clough said the evening will give district officials a chance to talk about the district’s finances and budget projections.

But unlike last year when residents shared their concerns during an open forum following the budget presentation, this year’s session will break them down into groups to discuss specific questions regarding pre-kindergarten through grade 12 education. Then they’ll report their discussions to the entire group.

Residents will be encouraged to register in advance to ensure adequate materials. Further registration details will be posted on the school district’s website: www.mcs.k12.ny.us.

Heading into the forum, Finance Committee members continue to examine ways to whittle down a gap of approximately $5 million, examining the impact of potential cuts to the district, taxpayers and classroom sizes. The committee has already met with the district’s unions, administrators and directors, and the March 7 session will give them an opportunity to get input from the community.

Mr. Clough said it’s a tough time for schools, but Massena is holding its own financially.

“School districts across New York stand at a funding cliff. Increasing costs paired with cuts in promised state aid leave them without the resources to provide students with a sound, basic education,” he said.

Still, Mr. Clough noted, “Massena Central School District is better off than many districts. The district has reserves that will delay the tragedy currently playing out in some north country schools.”

The superintendent said the money wouldn’t last forever, though.

“The facts are, however, that Massena’s good fortune is short-lived,” he said. “The district’s business office and the board of education Finance Committee forecast that if expenses continue to rise at current rates those reserves would be exhausted by 2015-16.”

Finance Committee Chairman Michael J. LeBire had warned board of education members in October that if state aid remained at a projected 2 percent annual increase and if the district maintained its current programs, local property taxes would need to increase 101 percent over the next five years to bridge the budget gaps.

The only way to get around that, he had said, was to cut academic and extracurricular programs or seek a super majority to approve a tax increase above the district’s tax levy limit - neither option being acceptable, according to the Finance Committee chairman.

Mr. LeBire said that their October projections showed, if current levels were maintained, the district’s reserve fund would run out before the 2015-16 school year and taxes could rise dramatically for district residents.

If district officials kept everything “static,” they would use $5.4 million of their reserve funds in 2013-14 with 2 percent tax increase and $5.6 million in 2014-15 with a 12 percent tax increase. That would exhaust the reserve fund, requiring a 48 percent tax increase in 2015-16. That would be followed by 9 percent tax increases in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Mr. Clough said changes will need to be made in the district if funding doesn’t keep up with the educational requirements.

“Without a change in school funding, the board will have no choice but to make deep cuts to academic and extracurricular programs,” he said.

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