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School budgets pass throughout north country

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BRASHER FALLS - Despite opposition to cuts made in the 2014-15 spending plan, the St. Lawrence Central School District’s $21,343,197 budget passed Tuesday night by a 206-140 margin. It had passed by a 183-44 margin in 2013.

Schools throughout the district reported positive outcomes on their spending plans, some by wide margins and other by closer counts.

At St. Lawrence Central, voters also authorized the district, by a 237-101 margin, to purchase two 66-passenger school buses and one 42-passenger bus at a cost not to exceed $308,000.

A third proposition allowing the district to establish a capital reserve fund passed by a 206-109 margin. The fund can be used to finance equipment acquisitions, construction, reconstruction and other capital projects, not to exceed $750,000 for a term of 10 years or less.

Board of education members Robert J. Dow and Nereida Diaz-Fuentes, who were running unopposed, were reelected for another five-year term. Ms. Diaz-Fuentes received 260 votes and Mr. Dow received 255 votes. Andy Snyder and Mickey Mouse each received one write in vote.

The spending plan calls for a tax levy increase of 3.725 percent. It calls for the elimination of several positions, including one math teacher, one physical education teacher, one business teacher, a half-time language teacher, one teacher assistant, one school counselor, one art teacher, one teacher aide, one cook, 5 percent of an athletic equipment and supplies, and a half-time music teacher.

Those cuts drew large crowds to recent board of education meetings and budget hearings, with community members, students, former students and teachers asking board members to reconsider the cuts.

“Every election, there are points of contention for folks. We wanted to address those points of contention,” Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. said Tuesday night after the votes had been tallied.

He said they listened to input and “wherever possible, make adjustments as you go.”

Mr. Vigliotti said he was pleased with the voter turnout and the number of residents who supported the spending plan. Had it been voted down, board members would have met again later this month to decide their next move - presenting it again in its current form, revising it and putting it back up for another vote or adopting a contingency budget. If they went the contingency budget route, they would have needed to trim an additional $172,500.

“I’m happy the vote turned out to be positive. At the same time, it’s sad we have to continue making sacrifices in program and let go members of an outstanding staff,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

He said the district, given its state aid, had no choice but to make some difficult decisions regarding staffing and programming.

“Taxpayers pay a lot of taxes. There’s only a certain amount they can bear,” he said. “I thank the taxpayers for their confidence. We’ll work as hard as we can to meet the needs of students with what we have.”

Looking to the future, Mr. Vigliotti said future budgets will be dependent on their revenue stream - taxes and state aid.

“If they’re not planning to change our funding system next year we need to investigate any and all possibilities to maintain programs for kids,” he said.

The budget may have passed, but he said his fight for more state revenue isn’t over. Mr. Vigliotti said he has two appointments next week to meet with legislators to “tell the story of the district and show the types of cuts that have been made, which are drastic.”

In the Massena Central School District, voters approved the budget and welcomed a new board of education member.

The district’s $49,051,678 spending plan passed by 478-157 margin. The plan carries a 1.64 percent tax levy increase and also authorizes the district to purchase five 66-passenger buses at a cost not to exceed $523,705 from the general fund. No bonds, notes or renewal notes will be used to raise funds for the purchases.

In a contested race for two five-year terms on the board of education, newcomer Paul A. Haggett was the top vote-getter with 453 votes. He’ll be joined on the board by incumbent Kevin F. Perretta, who received 304 votes. Newcomer Jason Premo finished with 278 votes, and incumbent Leonard A. Matthews rounded out the field with 155 votes.

The budget uses $3.5 million in fund balance, leaving administrators with $200,000 in cuts that needed to be made to balance the spending plan. It calls for those savings by cutting one custodial worker and a half-time nurse, along with one teacher retirement. Other savings will come from no longer funding classroom printers, and the budget calls for a 50 percent cut to classroom supply budgets, cuts to miscellaneous ancillary supplies and the rental of server space to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“The administrative team worked very well together. They generated a lot of good ideas,” Interim Superintendent William H. Flynn said Tuesday night.

“Certainly we were lucky that we didn’t have to go to those great levels of impact. We did several scenarios, each one progressively using less and less fund balance. Near the end, some of those reductions were going to be significantly felt by parents and students and staff alike. We were pleased that the board chose to use fund balance to basically balance that budget. Taking on a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of reductions was a challenge, but wasn’t nearly as difficult than if we had to go deeper,” he said.

Mr. Flynn thanked the voters who supported the budget.

“I’m real pleased at the numbers, very pleased with the results. I want to thank the residents who came out and voted for the budget and to select school board members. We had great support for the district, for the schools and the kids,” he said.

Taking $3.5 million from the fund balance to help balance the budget isn’t something they’ll be able to continue down the road though, Mr. Flynn said.

“I’ve been out talking to a few groups. We borrowed money from our savings account. We’re hoping to be able to spend under what’s been budgeted over the course of the year and return some to the fund balance,” he said. “In planning, we have to make sure there’s some contingency funding for spending. There’s not a lot of extra padding.”

Colton-Pierrepont Central School district voters approved a $10.28 million spending plan, and they dide so by a wide margin.

The final vote tally for the 2014-15 budget was 186-50, representing a 79 percent approval rating.

“We’re always pleased when the community shows the board support,” Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash said. “The vote hasn’t been (this widespread) in a while - not to my knowledge.”

The budget increases spending 4.5 percent and has a $7.12 million tax levy. The levy carries a 0.9 percent increase and comes in under the district’s tax cap limit.

Challenger Cindy McLean earned 135 votes in the board of education election to secure one of the two four-year terms. Incumbent Jeffery Angleberger garnered 188 votes in his reelection bid, while Kayc Stone received 123 votes.

Voters in the Parishville-Hopkinton Central School District also approved the district’s $10,446,177 budget by a vote of 121-31. The now approved 2014-15 spending plan increases spending by 2.5 percent. The plan is supported by a tax levy of $3,432,359, an increase of 3.98 percent.

Incumbent Heidi Condon Simmons was reelected to another five-year term on the board with 108 votes. Joseph R. McGill also won a seat on the board with 121 votes. Corey L. Sheldon finished in third place with 60 votes. Incumbent Fred Wilhelm opted to not run for reelection.

Voters also approved a proposition to allow the district to purchase two buses by a vote of 129-22. The district will borrow up to $240,000 for the purchase.

Superintendent Darin P. Saiff said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I think it’s a reflection of the supportive school community we have,” Mr. Saiff said. “We are very fortunate to have the type of board of education, teachers, students and community we have.”

Mr. Saiff also noted the district saw a large increase in the number of votes cast this year.

“We had about 40 voters more than last year,” he said. “Perhaps, with the three candidates that had something to do with it.”

Last year the district did not have a contested board of education race.

Voters in the Norwood-Norfolk Central School District approved the district’s $20,633,492 spending plan by a 220-79 margin. The budget carries a tax levy increase of 0.49 percent.

Voters, by a 230-75 margin, also authorized the district to purchase two 60-passenger buses and one 30-passenger bus at a cost not to exceed $250,000.

Incumbents Karl J. Fetter and Jonathan L. Hunkins were reelected to three-year terms on the board of education. Mr. Fetter received 235 votes, while Mr. Hunkins received 260 votes. A third seat that had been held by David C. Flint, who opted not to seek reelection, remains unfilled. There were write-ins for 11 people, with former board member Lisa Levison leading that field with 20 votes. Newberry Meader received 6 write-in votes, followed by Rita Jackson with 4 votes and eight individuals with 1 vote.

Canton voters also approved that district’s $26.5 million budget by 439-135. They also approved a bus purchase by a 433-138 margin, as well as library funding by a 420-148 count.

Three seats were up for grabs on the board of education, with Margaret Sweeney receiving 452 votes, Patrick Hanns receiving 350, Phillip J. Burnett Sr. receiving 3437 and Barbara B. Beekman receiving 338.

In Madrid-Waddington, votes said yes to the $15.3 million budget by a 204-25 margin. They also approved a bus proposition and capital project.

Write-in candidates Tina Bush and Richard Hobkirk received votes for two seats on school board. They’ll be seated as board members if they accept the election.

Reporter Victor Barbosa contributed to this report.

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