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General Brown BOE mum on cuts, talks possible tax increase

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DEXTER — The board of education already knows it could be broke by 2015, and now another threat looms: educational insolvency.

Because the General Brown Central School District faces a $1.8 million shortfall, board members have the task of reducing expenses for the 2013-14 budget, which may include double-digit layoffs. Less staff could mean drastic program changes, therefore limiting educational opportunities for students.

“Without tax increases over the last three years, we are where we are now,” said Daniel J. Dupee II, board member. “We’re at a crossroads now.”

As the board continues to work through the 2013-14 budget development process to figure out what to cut and where, the board also recently had Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak provide information on school district mergers. Board President Tasha L. Richards made it clear during the board’s monthly meeting Monday at the junior-senior high school that no decisions have been finalized.

“We’re still in the early stages of forming a budget,” she said.

There was no mention of a specific number of potential layoffs or any department that may be affected, although District Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti, recently appointe as St. Lawrence Central’s next superintendent, mentioned board members received “updated lists based on administrative recommendations.”

When he asked the board if there were any questions about the updated list, there was a long pause before board Vice President Jeffrey West asked if there was any new news from the state.

The board of education has been waiting for state aid runs to be release so it can “look to balance expenditures with revenues,” Mr. Vigliotti said. State aid runs have yet to be released.

General Brown Teachers Association President Melissa Walters said she knows teaching positions, and support staff, will have to be cut, and the association now will be advocating for programs as a whole, not individual teachers.

“We want to save our students,” she said. “We back the community. We back our school. We know the board has tough decisions to make. We know there’ll be cuts.”

The union will soon schedule a meeting to listen to concerns of General Brown community members, Mrs. Walters said.

Board members have until the end of April to decide what they have to do in order to sustain programs throughout the district’s three buildings. Mr. Dupee even asked Mr. Vigliotti about the vote needed to go above the district’s tax cap of 5.3 percent.

“If the board wanted to exceed that, it’d take a super majority of the vote for that to pass,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

Sandra Young Klindt, a Dexter resident who has children attending Dexter Elementary, said after the meeting that she understands taxes will most likely increase for the 2013-14 school year. She said she has recently begun to educate herself about tax caps and the gap elimination adjustment, which is a cut in state aid used to offset the state’s deficit.

“I’d be interested to see how our taxes compare to other school districts,” she said. “Our district has a very low spending per student, so when it came time to make all these cuts with less state aid, there was nowhere else to cut. Right now it’s not just a General Brown problem; it’s a problem with New York state.”

Mrs. Klindt, who is collecting signatures to run in May for a board seat, said she will continue to search for any information to better understand the budget process. District Business Manager Lisa K. Smith has been helpful in responding to her budget questions, Mrs. Klindt said. Mrs. Smith, and some board members, also stayed after the board meeting to chat with some district residents about the budget process.

Mr. Vigliotti has cautioned board members throughout the past few years that if money is taken from the unappropriated fund balance, and not budgeted to be replenished, that it would soon be gone. Board members now realize that to be true, as there is no money in that fund.

“It wasn’t frivolous spending,” Mr. West said. “We’re not up here trying to put it in the hole.”

In the past five days alone, he said, he has received about 70 calls from community members who were “worried about the cuts.”

While there was no public comment during the hourlong meeting, there was a silent presence of more than 200 community members, teachers, staff and children.

Board members encouraged community members to review budget information and submit comments via the district website, www.gblions.org.

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