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Tue., Oct. 6
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Norwood-Norfolk Central School trims 2014-15 budget with minimal impact


NORFOLK - Final state aid numbers released this week brought the Norwood-Norfolk Central District’s gap in their 2014-15 budget down to about $72,500. But that gap exists no more with some cuts that will have minimal impact on the district’s programs or staff.

I think the list we put together had the lowest impact on kids,” Superintendent James M. Cruikshank told board of education members during a Tuesday evening budget work session.

Mr. Cruikshank said their revised spending plans calls the reduction of a half-time business teacher and half-time cleaner, and no other personnel cuts are recommended as part of the budget proposal.

They had originally considered the potential elimination of eight full-time equivalent positions, which included core teachers, support staff and academic intervention services, to save $498,000.

“We’ve had a list of reductions for discussions and there’s been a lively discussion,” Mr. Cruikshank said.

Among the positions that were considered were a half-time science teacher, half-time English language arts teacher, half-time social studies teacher, half-time math teacher and three teaching assistants, he said. Those positions are now safe under the latest draft of the district’s budget.

He said they had also accepted the resignation of a business teacher and, when they hired another business teacher, that person was told the position could be reduced to half-time or could be eliminated.

District officials had also looked at extracurricular activities for potential reductions, and Mr. Cruikshank said they were recommending some cuts and modifications, which will eliminate some stipends. For instance, he said, the Travel Club is on the final list of cuts, as is a high school Science Club. He said the district had received grant funding for science activities, which made retaining the Science Club “somewhat of a redundancy.”

The high school Student Council will continue, but with one stipend instead of two under the revised plan.

In sports, Mr. Cruikshank said they have had one coach and one assistant coach for each of the boys’ and girls’ spring track teams. He recommended that one of the assistant coach stipends be eliminated and the remaining assistant coach work with both teams.

“It has been done in the past,” he said.

There could also be consideration down the road for charging for mergers, something the district currently does not do.

“With about half the merger situations in the north country, there are fees associated. It could be a safety net,” the superintendent said.

The revised budget does include the addition of fourth- and fifth-grade teachesr to keep classroom sizes under 25 students each. Leaving fourth grade with its current three sections would means two sections of 32 students each and one section of 33 students next year. With a fourth section, they would be looking at two sections of 24 students each and two sections of 25 students each. The fifth-grade addition had been on the list of reductions.

The spending plan also includes the addition of junior varsity girls’ soccer and girls’ basketball because of the high number of students interested in those sports. Those sports will cost the district $11,970.

With all of the recommendations presented to board members, Mr. Cruikshank said that took their former $72,500 gap down to $1,618, which could be covered by the district’s fund balance. They had in the initial stages of the budget preparation been looking at a gap of $632,000 while using $1.4 million from their reserves and fund balance.

They will receive $13,038,643 in state aid next year, which represents a $712,628 increase over the $12,626,089 Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had proposed for the district. That’s an increase of $535,627 over what they received in 2013-14.

Because of the state aid increase, Mr. Cruikshank said he would not recommend going above the district’s tax cap of .49 percent, which would raise just under $30,000. He said new modifications to the property tax law means residents of a district who stay within their tax cap will be eligible for a refund from the state.

If the district went above the tax cap, he said, “The voters would be asked not to just pay more for a tax levy, but also to forego their rebate. It’s kind of an all or nothing.”

Mr. Cruikshank said the increase wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the elected officials who represent the district and the residents who flooded them with letters, phone calls and emails.

It wasn’t just Norwood-Norfolk though, according to board Vice President Jonathan Hunkins. He said other local districts had also mounted similar campaigns to get the attention of lawmakers in Albany.

“It shows public unity and strength at the same time,” he said.

While they appear to have resolved their budget dilemma this year with the changes in the new budget draft, Mr. Cruikshank said it won’t get any easier until the funding formula is fixed.

“The system hasn’t fixed the problem. It will exist another day. The foundation formula is still flawed. The Gap Elimination Adjustment is still there. We have some movement politically because Norwood-Norfolk said we’ve had enough,” he said.

The current tax rate is $30.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for property owners in the town of Norfolk and $254.92 per $1,000 for town of Potsdam residents.

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