POTSDAM - Superintendent Patrick H. Brady says Potsdam Central School District officials have 65 to 75 percent of its 2013-14 budget competed, but he acknowledged the most difficult decisions before the spending plan is completed.
We have some key decisions to make in terms of fund balance, tax levy and, unfortunately, cuts to staffing, Mr. Brady said, noting that at this point the board is facing a budget deficit of nearly $1.2 million, a number that hes hoping could change in the near future.
How the $203 million will be spent, we still dont know, he said, referring to a yet to be allocated pool of education funding that was included in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomos budget proposal. Questions also still remain about the governors pension stabilization plan and what, if any, savings that can bring to the district.
One new development though is the talk of an additional $350 million in education funding that may be included in the legislatures budget proposal.
Mr. Brady said he first heard of this through a letter written to the governor by a state senator from the Albany area. He also heard that number through a conversation with Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell.
Im not sure how that number got out there, but I have heard it discussed, he said.
Mr. Brady said hes hopeful that once the $203 million is allocated, answers are given regarding the pension stabilization plan, and potentially the $50 million set aside for competitive grants, $75 million for education initiatives and $350 million being floated by the legislature are distributed, the districts budget picture could look a bit better,
If they are distributed based on need, we may see some significant relief to our gap, he said.
As for whats going to be cut, how much fund balance and reserves the district should use and whats going to be cut, Mr. Brady said that picture will become clearer in the coming weeks after the state releases its final budget document, something the Potsdam superintendent said is expected to happen as early as March 21.
A lot of the decisions will depend on what we see from the state, he said.
There are certainly no good cuts. We are already bare bones, school board President Christopher C. Cowen said. The administration can do all the work in the world, but the bottom line i, it all comes down to the nine people at this table.
With that the board began a conversation designed to give its finance committee, who will be meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, some direction.
Frederick C. Stone Jr., said one cut that he thinks would be an easy one to make is the districts teacher center.
It was funded by a grant, but now its not. Were the only district that has one, he said. I think thats a benefit that should be put under serious consideration.
Mr. Stone also said he would like to see the budget be a more accurate picture of what is actually spent, noting the district routinely has several hundred thousand dollars remaining unspent from their budget each year.
Finance committee member Thomas W. Hobbs said he would like to hear from fellow board members what they think an acceptable tax levy increase would be for next year.
Were allowed in the tax cap 4.78 percent, he said.
Mr. Brady pointed out at this point the budget includes a 3.99 percent tax levy increase.
I would go half a percent over the cap, Mr. Stone said initially, later saying he would be fine going up to a full percentage over the cap.
That doesnt help us all that much, Finance Committee Chair J. Patrick Turbett said, pointing out 1 percent raises roughly $100,000.
Mr. Brady questioned whether surpassing the tax cap again this year would be a wise move.
I question whether the community would support that, he said. They got 14.4 percent from the county, and theres a reval this year.
Mr. Brady pointed out the last time there was a property revaluation the districts budget got defeated twice forcing the district to operate under a contingency plan.
The stakes are a little bit higher now, he said. If it goes down twice, it goes to zero.
Mr. Stone said he would like to see the public at least have the opportunity to vote on a budget with fewer cuts, even if it does surpass the tax cap.
I think we should let the public decide, he said. Its a balanced approach to the budget. Were not just going out there with 14 percent. Were making cuts and were increasing revenues. I think ours is a more reasonable approach.
If they dont, (approve the budget), they can vote again, said Ralph L. Fuller.
Wade A. Davis said he doesnt want to see a tax levy increase that even approaches the tax cap.
Im troubled by the tax levy increase, he said. I think the CPI is a little more reasonable.
Mr. Cowen also mentioned the plan to shift students from the middle school to the high school or vice versa, noting he would not support taking students out of the middle school and bringing them to the high school, much of which was built in 1929.
If we did have to reorganize, I would much rather see the 1929 space blocked off and push students into the newer spaces, he said.
Mr. Fuller said he has a hard time supporting the shuffling of students when its essentially a one-year fix.
Mr. Brady said if thats something the district is interested in a decision must be made by the end of April, as such a move must be approved by the states Board of Regents.
Mr. Cowen also suggested taking a different approach to the budget by determining what they are required to offer and then adding non-mandated offering back into the budget instead of cutting them.
I have a real issue hearing about kindergarten classes at 27 when there are field trips and activities that were not required to have, he said. I would rather have my daughter in a class of 20 than have her in Lego Robotics.
Mr. Cowen said hes not the only one who feels this way.
We need to take a look at all this stuff, he said. The public sees this and says theyre offering this, but my kid is in a class of 26.
Mr. Brady reminded the Mr. Cowen that non-mandated programs include sports, extracurriculars and AP classes among other offerings.
The board is expected to continue its budget discussion at 6 p.m. tonight in the high school library when its Finance Committee meets. While the committee is made up of Mr. Hobbs and Mr. Turbett, several other board members indicated that they planned on attending tonights meeting.