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Sun., Oct. 4
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SLC superintendent recommends eliminating 10 positions in 2014-15 budget


BRASHER FALLS - Seven teacher positions - including one through attrition - are on the chopping block as part of the 2014-15 St. Lawrence Central School District’s budget.

The list also includes one teacher aide, one teacher assistant and one cook, whose position will be eliminated through attrition after a retirement.

Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. told board of education members during a Wednesday evening work session that they also plan to trim their athletic budget by 5 percent. The sports budget is approximately $175,000 and a 5 percent reduction would cut it by $17,500.

“We’re trying to reduce costs, but keep the opportunities the same for athletes,” he said.

The plan calls for a tax levy increase of 3.72 percent, which is below their tax cap and would raise $172,499, and the use of $451,000 in fund balance.

“We’re using a significant amount of fund balance, more than I’m comfortable with,” he said, suggesting they not consider using any more than that or it would “hasten our demise.”

Mr. Vigliotti said the list of teacher reductions, which were not specifically identified Wednesday, was agreed upon by administrators who felt they could still provide programming despite the losses. The district currently has approximately 120 teachers on their staff, according to Business Manager Karen Locey.

“Being in the district for nine months, I let them figure this out. I asked administration to sit together, review program and make a recommendation. When the dust settles, they’re going to have to make this work in their buildings,” Mr. Vigliotti said. “It’s important to understand all of these affect instruction, all of these affect program.”

He had provided the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers union with a list in March that contained 23 positions that could have been affected by the reductions in the budget. Under the terms of the union’s contract, district officials are contractually obligated to notify them in March of any potential reductions.

Mr. Vigliotti said the reductions were necessary because of a $650,000 to $700,000 gap in their 2014-15 spending plan after receiving their final state aid numbers. They had been facing a $1.75 million gap in March.

“We had quite a sizeable gap. That helped close it substantially,” he said.

Although the district saw their state aid increase to $13.7 million, Mr. Vigliotti said not all of that funding is foundation aid which can be used to help balance the budget.

For example, he said, more than $500,000 is for building aid that goes to pay off capital project debt. Other aid is for services used at the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, as well as excess cost aid for special education. But the district has already paid for those services, and the aid they’ll receive is simply replenishing the money they’ve already spent, he said.

“We’re just getting it back,” he said.

There was also a miniscule increase in pre-kindergarten aid, but Mr. Vigliotti said he and other superintendents didn’t know how they could use it.

“It’s not like we can expand the program on $4,000,” he said.

On the expense side, the superintendent said they had a slight decline in their Employee Retirement System contribution,” “but it’s still going to cost us close to $400,000 next year.”

BOCES services, utilities and the district’s debt service also increased, he said. While their building aid is $565,000, their debt service is $701,000.

“That’s a gap there that we have to make up for,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

The $168,000 increase in BOCES costs is because they’re purchasing more services, which would make them eligible for aid the following year, he said.

Board members had a chance to digest the information Wednesday, and they’ll be asked to vote on the spending plan during their April 23 meeting. “This is going to be my recommendation to the board next meeting unless the consensus of the board is something different,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

In some cases, it was. Jonathan Burnett said he was against cutting two of the positions and said he would rather see larger class sizes than have those positions eliminated.

“My concern is we’re the Titanic and we’re taking the life jackets off the kids and shoving them into the corners of the boat,” he said, suggesting that since they were “going down anyway,” they keep the positions and programs until they ran out of money and then let the state make the decision about the district’s future.

“I don’t want to churn out three years of kids who got screwed in their education. I’d rather churn out the best we can until we run out of money,” Mr. Burnett said.

Patricia Gengo wondered what would happen if they ran out of money.

“If we run out of money and don’t have a budget, what is the state responsible for?” she asked.

Mr. Vigliotti said the same question had been posed to the education commissioner, who replied there were no protocols in place to address that.

Mary-Margaret Bellinger said she also shared Mr. Burnett’s concerns about two cuts.

Arthur Siebert said that, while he shared the same concerns, he would go along with Mr. Vigliotti’s recommendations.

“I support the administrator’s recommendations primarily because we have good building leaders,” he said.

“Some of these cuts, programs are actually being eliminated, not cut back,” James Lattimer said.

Mr. Siebert wondered if health care contributions by the district’s three unions - all of whom have expired contracts that are currently in negotiation - could help with some of the financial issues. Employees in the three groups who are on a single plan make no contributions, teachers who are on a family plan and retirees contribute 5 percent and non-instructional individuals on a family and two-person plan contribute 10 percent.

Ms. Locey said more than half of the employees are on individual plans and she said that, by switching to Rider 9 rather than their current plan, they could save $480,000.

“That has been clearly conveyed to all groups,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

With their current plan, he said, they are looking at needing to paying a “Cadillac tax” of $200,000 in a couple of years - on top of their health care increases - because it’s considered more of an extravagant plan than others in the state.

If the budget moves forward as recommended and is turned down by voters in May, Mr. Vigliotti said they had three choices - to re-vote the same budget, re-vote an alternative budget or adopt a contingency budget, which would require no vote. It would, however, required an additional $173,000 in cuts, he said.

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