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Fulton School Budget: $1.2 Million in Proposed Cuts Isn’t Half Enough

Fulton school district officials have already proposed what they say are painful, devastating cuts for the next school year. And it’s not enough, not even close to enough.

So far, there’s as much as $1.2 million in cuts being proposed: A half million dollars saved because of retirements; cuts in buying textbooks and a host of smaller purchases; and eliminating 8 jobs.

In an average year, $1.2 million in spending cuts would produce a tax cut or, at worst, no increase. This isn’t an average year.

The state will cut at least $1.7 million in aid to Fulton as part of a statewide cut of about 5% on average in school aid. At the same time, districts will pay much more in 2010-11 for its share of the state retirement system. Payroll and benefits costs will also go up next year.

So, that $1.2 million spending cut? If that’s the last cut the district makes (and officials say it won’t be), Fulton school taxes would rise an average of 13.4% for taxpayers.

Therefore, there will be more cuts.

How much more must be cut?

To get the tax levy increase down to 5%, a number that would be considered too high any other year, the district will have to make another $1.5 million in cuts. A 2% increase? $2.1 million more. Zero? Nearly $2.5 million.

School districts have, in the past, planned for deep cuts in state aid that are erased at the last minute by the state Legislature. Not only is that not likely to happen this year, but last week, State Senator Darrel Aubertine told school superintendents at a private meeting that the Legislature is likely to cut school aid even more than currently proposed.

“It’s pretty devastating,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch.

Gov. David Paterson has said that school districts should just use their reserve funds to fill the gap. There are a few problems with that scenario.

First, schools that have been able to build some reserve funds have been planning for two difficult budget years, not just one. Using the reserves now would leave nothing for the 2011-12 year, which will see another increase in state retirement contributions and the loss of some federal aid.

Second, the reserve fund isn’t a rainy-day fund that can be use to patch any budget hole. Instead, there are many reserve funds, each restricted to a particular part of the budget. For example, there’s a reserve fund to pay off unused sick days when more employees retire than normal. So, of all of a district’s reserve funds, very little can be used to fill the gap in state aid.

Thus, more cuts.

“We’re preparing a laundry list of options (for more cuts) and we’ll pick and choose,” said Lynch. “But they’ll all be painful.”

The cuts already being proposed would cut into academic intervention services for high school math, where students are doing well, and would require art and physical education teachers to travel among buildings. It would also eliminate two teacher-on-special-assignment positions, which are used to carry out special projects that require more manpower. A teacher who teaches Family and Consumer Science would not be replaced after retiring, nor would a retiring special education teacher or a clerical position left vacant earlier this year because of a retirement.

Further cuts are likely to dig directly into academic programs. The next level of cutbacks will be made public next Tuesday when the district holds a workshop on the budget.

“I’m looking at this in tiers of reductions,” Lynch told the Board of Education Tuesday night.

“‘Tears’ is right,” said board member Robbin Griffin, making a dark play on words about the difficult choices ahead.

5 Comments

  1. According to questions from the budget commitee we have 4 elementary buildings with the total number of students that each can house “FGR- 800, VOL-800, GBY 1000, and LGN-750”. We currently have 1960 students in 4 elementray buildings. This means that we have a total student population across 4 buildings of 1960 students and we have space to house 3350 students. Anyone can see if one building is taken out of this equation we could still house all the students at 3 buildings. How much can be saved if one building is closed even if for just one or two years? How many other positions could go unfilled if we combine four buildings down to three? Look at the data we are very close on all the numbers to being able to eliminate one section per grade level if two biulding could be combined. I firmly feel that the cost savings by reduced maintenance and significantly reduced staff at an extra building will and can close the budget gap. We can save the quality of education and keep current programs in place without stripping everything to the bare bones. Lets wake up and make the right and sensible choice. These are tough times and call for tough decisions. Not reducing progrmas that are working. I would really like someone to respond and give me any valid reason why this could not and would not work. Perhaps I am missing something just looking at the data the district is providing. If one building were to be taken away we would need less staff and this could be easily acheived by not replacing retiring personnel.

  2. I don’t see any mention of eliminating some of the administration jobs that have been created for board cronies. The district is excessively top heavy. Instead of eliminating programs for the students try looking at the top!

  3. How about getting rid of “advisory”? Do you know that teachers who do advisory get paid extra money for doing something that should do anyway? How much money would this save the district? I agree – cut administrators who make big money and keep the staff doing the work making little.

  4. Every school district in the country is facing the same problems as Fulton and Hannibal. The largest costs in the budgets are salaries and benefits. Increasing numbers of districts are proposing combining districts, closing buildings, increased class sizes, eliminating teachers, aides and assistants, downsizing administration, foregoing salary increases, reducing current salaries, passing on benefit cost increases to employees, etc.

    In private businesses salaried and union employees have been cut to the bone, capital improvements curbed, retirement plan contributions reduced or stopped, and unions and salaried employees are making contract concessions to help employers survive. Retirees have had no social security increase and absorbed higher insurance premiums, medical costs, cable bills, energy costs and on and on. In general, people are doing with less in this recession.

    In Fulton Schools none of the above remedies are ever mentioned in the budget proposals. Why Not? Why is it always business as usual… reduce the extra curricular activities and marginal expenses and increase taxes on district residents who can no longer afford the increases. Come on school board and Bill Lynch… make the tough decisions and right size the district.

    P.S. Since the state and school districts have known about the coming shortfalls for better than 2 yrs, I will never understand why the Billions of dollars recently spent for remodeling and building projects ($25-35 million in Fulton alone) didn’t get cut back and re-appropriated for operating expenses?

  5. Sure is a good thing we added all those classrooms over the last 10 years. Gives us plenty of storage space. Close Volney and sell it to CCC. They are looking for a new home in Fulton and it would prevent another property (P&C) from being taken off the tax rolls.

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