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St. Lawrence Central posts budget background information on district website

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BRASHER FALLS - St. Lawrence Central School officials have posted a number of informational items on their website to try and educate community members about what they’re facing as they continue work on their 2014-15 budget.

The documents, which are available at www.bfcsd.org, include the district’s strategic plan, five-year financial plan, 2013-14 budget statement, facts about the district’s funding, a Rutgers University study on school funding equity, information Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. presented to state legislators during a visit to Albany and sample letters community members can write to elected officials to share their budgetary concerns.

The 64-page Rutgers report by Professor Bruce D. Baker showed that St. Lawrence Central ranked 21st on a list of 50 districts in New York state with the largest formula funding shortfalls per pupil in 2013-14.

A similar report done in the past five years by the Statewide School Finance Consortium ranked St. Lawrence Central around 22nd in the state. In another study done by Syracuse University, St. Lawrence Central was ranked about 27th or 28th.

“There is a lot (of information). Quite honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

The district is currently facing a $1.7 million gap in next year’s budget, and some of the materials on the website will give residents an idea about why they’re in that dilemma, he said.

“Some of the materials are for people to gain some insights as school finance is not exactly easy to understand from a lay person’s perspective,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

Other information, he said, “kind of lays the foundation for folks that want to get involved.”

Among the documents is a two-page fact sheet that gives information about why the district is struggling financially. Mr. Vigliotti said he shared that information with elected officials during his visit to Albany.

“That was kind of our worksheet as we went through. I just wanted to be sure, if they didn’t read anything else, that they read that,” he said.

During his visit to Albany, he also pointed out other documents that are now on the district’s website.

“The actual nuts and bolts of what we put on there - the Yinger report, Dr. Baker’s report - that’s actual, real research that I challenged the legislators to follow. It’s obvious that there’s a huge problem. Also it’s obviously an inequity situation, so why aren’t you listening to the experts in the field? That’s really what I hoped they would embrace and ask me questions about,” he said.

The letter that residents can write to their elected officials is just a sample they can follow, according to the superintendent.

“The idea is, basically any form of communication is good communication although I’ve been told there’s some fatigue in Albany. It’s kind of a fine line between advocating and turning off, I guess. We just want to be sure that something’s done,” he said.

Changing the foundation aid formula and eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment are two of the biggest issues facing school districts today, he said.

“Ultimately the picture is the formula has to change. That’s it. These Band-Aids, Band-Aid after Band-Aid, gimmick after gimmick the governor’s office continues to purport as positive legislation is a sham. It’s a civil rights issue now. We need to start from scratch and re-do the formula. Why should the formula be 10 pages long?” Mr. Vigliotti said.

“There are a lot of organizations, I’m sure, that would be very pleased to sit down and work with that. The reason it’s not done is because they’re afraid of what it would mean. They know there’s a certain amount of money to be distributed,” he said.

Mr. Vigliotti said local taxpayers already “pay their fair share” to support the school and it is time for the state to step forward and help.

“The formula needs to be changed. Equity is something that has been elusive since 2007-08 when the foundation aid formula came in. It’s ironic that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s victory in court ended up turning into this. They’ve balanced the (state) budget on the back of school districts. How about they just take all the lottery money and use it strictly for school aid?” he said.

Mr. Vigliotti said he received an email this week from Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, requesting more information.

“She is interested. She wants Brasher’s information and wanted to ask me a few questions about the report from the professor at Rutgers. I think she’s trying to get (the formula) fixed. I think she is trying to advocate,” he said.

For now, because of their current gap district officials have provided the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers with a list of 23 possible cuts that may be coming. Those cuts will hinge on the final state aid numbers once the state budget is passed.

“We’re going to work really hard. The staffs been fantastic. I’ve had a lot of requests for information today. Like every other district, in my opinion the staff clearly wants what’s best for their kids,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

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