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Massena superintendent says money owed to district would help stave off personnel cuts

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MASSENA - The Massena Central School District can’t keep cutting small ticket items or using its fund balance in crafting its budget in future years, and the $10.4 million owed to the district by the state would alleviate those concerns, according to Interim Superintendent William H. Flynn.

The Alliance for Quality Education released a report this week that indicated Massena was owed $10,435,665, which includes $10,091,674 in Foundation Aid and $343,991 owed through the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

That money - or even a portion of it - would come in handy in crafting future budgets, Mr. Flynn said.

“Certainly if we were to get even part of this, it would make budgeting easier for the following year,” he said.

District voters in May approved a $49.1 million budget that saw $202,000 in savings in part by cutting one custodial worker and a half-time nurse. There was also one teacher retirement.

Other savings came through no longer funding classroom printers, and 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 district used $3.5 million from its fund balance in the 2014-15 spending plan.

But Mr. Flynn said they can’t continue to keep creating budgets using fund balance and not looking at bigger ticket items like personnel.

“We can’t continue to take $3 1/2 million out of our fund balance every year. Any part of this would make it a bit easier,” he said.

While the district was able to realize savings through cuts to supplies and materials in their 2014-15 spending plan, they also can’t continue to go down that route if they need to see substantial savings, he said.

“We were able to cut supplies and materials this year. If it gets tight next year, we can’t continue to say that everybody keeps a job. It will impact staff,” Mr. Flynn said.

The state aid picture may not improve in future years, making it even more necessary for larger budget cuts by districts, he said.

“If ever there was a good year, apparently this was it,” he said.

Mr. Flynn said he was surprised when he saw the amount owed to the district in the Alliance for Quality Education report.

“When you look at Massena, it’s close to $10 1/2 million. When you look at some of the areas where it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, even that has a positive impact,” he said.

According to the AQE report, St. Lawrence Central would be entitled to $4,620,755, while Gouverneur is owed $3.9 million, Norwood-Norfolk is owed $2.8 million, Canton is owed $2.1 million, Potsdam is owed $2 million, Edwards Knox is owed $1.4 million, Madrid-Waddington is owed $1.2 million and Lisbon is owed $1 million.

Rounding out the list of St. Lawrence County schools are Hermon-Dekalb ($838,271), Heuvelton ($682,666), Ogdensburg ($288,934), Colton-Pierrepont ($223,257), Parishville-Hopkinton ($175,138), Clifton-Fine ($140,934), Morristown ($72,151) and Hammond ($57,231).

All together, St. Lawrence County schools are owed more than $32 million, according to the report.

AQE officials say the state is $5.9 billion behind in funding schools at the level deemed constitutionally necessary under a 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, but they also owe 2.3 times more of that pool of funding to high needs districts like those in the north country.

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