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Massena School Board schedules March 6 open budget meeting

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MASSENA - Massena Central School District residents will have an opportunity to hear about the district’s preliminary 2014-15 budget during a special meeting on March 6. There will be no public comment period, however.

The board had been scheduled to hold their regular monthly session on March 6, but that will instead be moved to March 28.

Board member Kevin F. Perretta had inquired during this week’s board meeting about keeping the community informed on budget deliberations, which have been handled by the district’s Finance and Budget Committee.

“The county has open meetings with the whole board there, and they’re chaired by the chairman. I think that’s a better way of doing business,” he said, noting it provides more transparency on the process to taxpayers.

“We’re a little behind, I will say. The Finance and Budget Committee did not meet for one month. We do plan to meet next week and get back on track in that regard,” Interim Superintendent William W. Crist said.

“We’ve talked about that, Committee Chair Loren Fountaine said. “We are going to have an open meeting. We have to work out some of the legalities of it because when five board members are in a room, it’s no longer a committee. We are working through that.”

The district is currently facing a gap of more than $4 million in their budget proposal, according to Mr. Crist, but Mr. Fountaine said that could be erased if the state would get rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment and restore foundation aid to schools.

“Foundation aid has been frozen for five years. That has cost the district more money than the Gap Elimination Aid because we are so dependent on state aid. We aren’t getting the majority of our money from the taxpayers. We are very dependent on state aid,” Mr. Fountaine said.

Foundation aid, he said, “puts money in the hands of poor districts. We have to make sure that is not frozen.”

Mr. Fountaine said, with state aid accounting for 60 percent of Massena’s budget, they could turn to the taxpayers to help convince state lawmakers ro pick up that share.

“What you can do for us,” he told the crowd at this week’s meeting, “is get on the phone with your legislator and tell them to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment and fund foundation aid so we can be on the same playing field with the kids from Tarrytown,” he said.

Still, he said, the district’s financial planning had put them in a better position than other schools and the question was, do they want to save fund balance for a rainy day or spend it now.

“These are all philosophies we have to discuss. I think that’s the idea of having it in open session,” Mr. Fountaine said.

He said that they have “some planning” to do next week when the committee meets, but could be ready for a March 6 open budget session.

“It won’t be for public comment. It will be a budget discussion,” he said.

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