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St. Lawrence Central still facing $750,000 budget gap despite state aid increase

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BRASHER FALLS - Even though they received more than $1 million in state aid over what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had proposed, St. Lawrence Central school officials say they are still facing a gap of $750,000 in their 2014-15 budget plan. They had been facing a $1.75 million gap in March.

“It helps, but it doesn’t come anywhere near to closing our gap. We’re still looking at a significant reduction in program and staff,” Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. said.

St. Lawrence Central saw their state aid rise from $13,708,716 in 2013-14 to $15,217,888 in 2014-15. They will be receiving $1,021,626 more than Gov. Cuomo’s proposal of $14,730,342.

But, Mr. Vigliotti said, the numbers can be deceptive. He said $500,000 of the increase is for building aid.

“That’s half a million dollars that simply goes to debt, so there’s no increase there. When they approved the (capital) project, they promised us that money. It’s not anything that we can use tangibly,” he said.

They also had an increase in excess cost aid, which is designated for special education services, but the money they’ll be receiving will make up for what they’ve already spent, according to Mr. Vigliotti.

“We had an increase in excess cost aid, which are some of the more expensive kids. We’ve already spent that money. This goes toward replenishing where it came from,” he said.

The district will receive an increase of about $336,000 in foundation aid, pushing their total foundation aid to $9,132,390.

The lowering of the Gap Elimination Adjustment will also bring about $125,000 in revenue, but even with all the increased figured, it’s still not close to what they needed to keep programs and staff intact, Mr. Vigliotti said.

“In real money, the reduction of the gap of $125,000, OK, and the $336,000 in foundation aid, OK. But still, when we start at $1.75 (million), we’re at .75 (million),” he said.

The increase helps, he said, “but we’ve kind of had to dig such a hole because of the GEA in the past five years and the stagnant foundation aid formula. The increase that we had in foundation aid doesn’t even match our health insurance increases.

“It’s one of those things where people look at the paper, read the headline and say, ‘Brasher made out well. That’s great’ when in reality that’s just not the case,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

Because of $1.75 million gap they were facing in March, Mr. Vigliotti said they had provided the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers union with a list of 23 positions that may be affected by reductions in the budget. He said, under the terms of the union’s contract, district officials are contractually obligated to notify them in March of any potential reductions.

“Now the board (of education) has the unpleasant task of making those final decisions that ultimately affect the delivery of education to our kids,” he said.

The board will meet April 23 and will adopt the spending plan during that session.

Among their considerations is the district’s 3.72 percent tax cap, which would raise about $173,000.

“Our board knows how hard people have been hit with fuel costs. We’re committed to try and do what we can to stay under the tax cap. We’re charged with putting together the best program with the means we have,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

Students and staff tried to do their part to get more state aid for the district. Senior Kelsey Newtown, president of the Student Council, wrote and directed a 5 minute and 18 second video called “We Are SLC,” and encouraged everyone in the district to share it as a message to lawmakers in Albany.

The district also went into tweeting mode, organizing a “tweet-a-thon” on Twitter to share messages with elected officials.

Among the suggested tweets they sent out were “!! .@nygovcuomo adding $402M to Foundation Aid good start but add more GEA $ to help EVERY school district too. #NYbudget”; “.@nygovcuomo #NYsenate & #NYassembly one house no REAL GEA reform??? Need Foundation aid + GEA must b gone in 2yrs! #NYbudget”; and “.@nygovcuomo #NYsenate & #NYassembly there are poor children EVERYWHERE in NYS help them too - GEA must b gone in 2yrs! #NYbudget.”

“The students and staff did a tremendous job of advocating. It was an intensive period of time that they put an awful lot of effort into it. I’m sure it helped. Unfortunately, even with everyone’s best efforts in regard to advocating, we’re still well short of even maintaining the status quo. It’s a tough place. But I’m proud of the kids and staff for doing what they did because that’s part of our American democratic process,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

As they explore how to close this year’s gap, it’s also with an eye toward the future. A consultant, Dr. Richard G. “Rick” Timbs, recently told board of education members that at their current pace, the district would go broke in 2017. Dr. Timbs said that the district had been underfunded by nearly $25 million over the last seven years.

“We can’t lose sight of here is the projection of district funds through the next five years, our long-term financial projection. It shows a picture that Dr. Timbs clearly illustrated. This doesn’t change that five-year projection one iota. We’re going to have to certainly keep a close monitor on that and come up with more ideas to share services and combine or consolidate,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

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