OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Oswego Board of Education knows it has to get a budget in place by April 13 (or maybe 20).
With a little more than three weeks to go, board members still disagree on just what the budget they adopt for the taxpayers’ consideration should actually look like.
Board member Sean Madden was absent.
Earlier this week, the superintendent presented his tentative spending plan for the 2010-11 school year to the board.
The $74.4 million budget increases the tax levy by 2.5 percent Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and includes moving the central offices into the Leighton school building. Leighton’s students would be dispersed to the other four remaining elementary schools and the middle school.
The middle school would become a 6-8 facility. Oswego High School would remain 9-12.
The plan would also cut 59.4 full-time positions, district wide, not just those at Leighton. Thirty-seven of those would be teachers, two would be administrators and 20.4 would be support staff.
Retirements have the potential to change the way staff reductions play out, the superintendent noted.
The board of education met for nearly two and a half hours Thursday night.
Members feel they don’t have feel they have been given all the information needed to vote on the budget one way or another; some believe they won’t be able to come to a decision within the allotted time.
Superintendent Bill Crist says his plan would save the district $1.852 million.
The savings would be compounded over the years, Crist explained, adding, “It’s a rollover savings that occurs annually.”
“I think what we should do here tonight, is decide if we’re going to use gap closing strategy one or two,” board member Dave White said. “Or, are we basically going to start from the beginning?”
“Less than 48 hours ago we sat here and we asked for information. We looked at the plans and said there is more information needed before we can make a decision,” Board President Sam Tripp said. “Now the information is here. I think it’s unfair if we at least don’t look at it. And then make our choice of which way we are going to go.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If this information was prudent to prove a point, it should have been here before the superintendentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s proposal was on the table,Ã¢â‚¬Â board member John Dunsmoor said referring to the schematics depicting the redistricting plan and the classroom layout for the middle school as well as other information.
OMS Principal Bonnie Finnerty was in the audience and available to answer the board’s questions, Crist noted.
“If we have to close a school, if we have to do all that stuff, then I take great exception that you bring it to me here at the table. If we asked for it, we should have gotten it so we have time to look at it,” White told the superintendent. “And you’re going to bring people up here to tell me exactly what you want them to tell me.”
“Let’s decide whether we’re going to go with the over all plan before we start analyzing it,” interjected board member Fran Hoefer. “Let’s get an idea of where we’re going.”
Crist provided data, called “A Snapshot of New York’s Economy” to add credence to his plan.
“We have to make decisions that we know are going to be difficult,” he said.
“I know we do. I know we do,” Hoefer said.
“No one wants to make them,” Crist continued.
“I want to make them. And, I’m ready to make them,” Hoefer said.
“I’m proposing some changes here that I think will be able to provide a quality education and do it in a way that our community support,” Crist said.
According to the snapshot, the state budget deficit for 2010-11 is projected at $8.2 billion, as a result the governor proposed cutting the district’s state aid by $1.1 million, Crist pointed out.
In 2011-12 the state will be dealing with a deficit of $14.3 billion, in 2012-13 it could hit $18.3 billion and the next year – $20.7 billion, Crist continued. The possibility of the state providing any relief to the district any time soon is just about zero, he said.
“We’re losing aid every year. We’re not going to make that up,” he told the board. “The point here gentlemen is we have some very tough decisions to make. I’ve proposed some very tough decisions for you to make, I apologize for that.”
“Don’t apologize for that,” Hoefer said.
The district’s budget gap won’t be fixed this year or next year, unless the board makes the tough decisions, Crist told them.
“I’ll take the responsibility for it, guys. I’ll take the responsibility for it. I proposed a budget to you that says we have a $5.5 million gap,” Crist said. “We can save $1.88 million next year by consolidating one of our elementary schools and redistricting. I believe that we can do this.”
Board member John Dunsmoor said he favors a plan that keeps all five elementary schools open. He believes the district is in the best financial shape it has been in 10 years.
“We’d save $2 million by cutting the heck out of all of our programs,” the superintendent pointed out.
Dunsmoor wants to redistrict with class sizes “even across the board at 25 students. What would our savings be?”
“Not anywhere near that, John. Not anywhere near that,” Crist replied.
To get Dunsmoor’s suggested (elementary) class sizes the redistricting would split families, there wouldn’t be neighborhood schools because you’d take all the sixth graders and balance that out Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ it’s not a perfect science, Crist explained.
“You have to take the population zones you have and work with that. Then you’ll be bussing the kids to the specific schools that they will be going to,” Crist said.
“The fact is we can’t continue to provide the services that we want to provide at a cost this community can pay given the configuration that we have. That’s all I am telling you,” he continued.
“It’s going to cost the community 2.5 percent,” White said referring to the spike in the tax levy. “Unless, you’re changing your mind.”
“No, I’m not changing my mind,” Crist replied.
“You know how I got to paying over $2,000 a year in school tax? Because every time they did this it’s only $30 (a year),” White said.
“If we didn’t do the $48.2 million project, that’s what being asked of the community at this point, to help pay for the improvements that we’ve done on our buildings. We need to keep our facilities in good shape,” Crist said.
“I have a hard time getting to a destination if I don’t know where I’m going. We have no idea of where we’re trying to get to, what we’re trying to accomplish or where we’re going” Hoefer said. “Let’s pick a destination here.”
Hoefer leaned forward on the table and asked each of the other board members, “Who here is willing to raise taxes? Tell me, who’s willing to raise taxes?”
The others said they didn’t want to raise taxes.
“Let’s go from there,” Hoefer suggested. “We want a budget that doesn’t increase taxes.”
The administrative team came together and came up with a proposal that allows the district to preserve what it needs for the students “and everybody turns away from it like it’s a poison apple,” Board Vice President Jim Tschudy said.
“I cannot figure out why in a time (when other districts are closing schools) we’ve got our heads in the ground or someplace else and we’re not looking at what we need to look at,” Tschudy said.
When Dunsmoor bemoaned the lack of time to work on the budget, Crist pointed out that the board approved the budget calendar, amending to approve the budget on April 13.
The board could go back to the original date of April 20 so they’d have an extra week to sit and commiserate over what the district is going to be in 2010-11, he said.
“I have given you a budget on the timeline that you and I agreed to back in November,” Crist said. “That’s what I did.”
“Do you want me to grade it now?” Dunsmoor asked. “I’d just as soon vote on it then.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to wait until Wednesday to make a vote,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tripp said.
That would allow additional time for board members to digest the information.
Board member Tom DeCastro said he isn’t in favor of closing Leighton.
“I think we really need some more time to look at whether we’re going to close a school or not. I don’t think we need to close Leighton.”
“I don’t like either of the two plans, as far as doing it all in one year,” Dunsmoor added. “I think it needs to be well-thought out, well-planned. I don’t want to close Leighton and I do not want to send sixth graders to the middle school.”
DeCastro asked if the district kept Leighton open and closed Minetto, would the savings be the same?
If the board wants him to propose something different, Crist said, “I’ll work my hardest to do what I need to do.”
“Nobody is yelling close a school more than me. When (the superintendent) proposed it, I almost fell out of my chair,” Hoefer said. “We need to do it. We need to do it planned out, methodically and logically.”
The proposal was presented as being planned out, Tripp said. “We as a group don’t (believe that),” he added. “We need o look at this budget and cut out what we can cut.”
Dunsmoor has suggested using more of the district’s reserves to balance the budget.
However, DeCastro cautioned that could be dangerous.
“We’re heading down the same road with this kind of thinking that happened in Central Square and they almost went bankrupt. They almost lost that school district,” he said.
Pete Colucci, the district’s business manager said he will sit down with Dunsmoor and other board members if they wish, and go over the budget. He will also give them a chance to explain their numbers as well Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and come to an agreement.
The board will meet again on March 24.