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Oswego School Board Entering Budget Homestretch

Superintendent Ben Halsey points out some figures during Thursday's budget workshop.

Superintendent Ben Halsey points out some figures during Thursday's budget workshop.

OSWEGO, NY – It’s coming down to the wire for the Oswego School Board to agree on a budget; one that they can feel comfortable presenting to the public. With about a week to go until a budget must be approved, the board members agree – there is still a lot more work to do.

Superintendent Ben Halsey shared some new budget figures with the board, based on recommendations members made following the April 9 workshop.

Superintendent Ben Halsey points out some figures during Thursday's budget workshop.
Superintendent Ben Halsey points out some figures during Thursday’s budget workshop.

“The new number is lower than the number we were operating on last week,” he said.

A big part of the budget is a $1.5 million increase in legal bills; with the majority of that to deal with a major challenge from the nuclear power plants.

“We feel that we’re very close to being able to finalize that deal,” Halsey said. “We can make a reduction in our legal fees. But, I am cautious to remove the whole 1.5 because if in the eleventh and a half hour something goes south we’re still going to need some funds.”

“What we did, and what we were instructed to do, was cut supplies 10 percent across the board,” Business Administrator Nancy Squairs explained. “In doing that, we did notice that there were some groups that would be harmed by the 10 percent reduction in their supply budget. So there are some places where we did not reduce supplies.”

“We’re talking across the board here. It’s not just pencils and erasers,” Halsey added. “We’re talking about all departments. We’re not singling out anyone.”

All of the schools’ field trips have been cut from the budget, Squairs said.

“We talk about and look at areas like field trips; and we all know their value academically and to the well-rounded experience that we provide for our students. It’s tough times and we’ve got to make those cuts,” Halsey said.

Reductions in the area of staffing include two administrators at the high school, according to Squairs.

“The proposal is to take the two assistant principal positions that we currently have and reduce them to 10-month employees rather than eliminating one of them completely,” the superintendent said, adding that it would mean some “significant” savings.

Employee benefits have been reduced as a result of the staffing level. The special education team leader has been reduced from the budget. Intramurals funding has been reduced to properly reflect what the costs are to that program.

Two physical education won’t be replaced in the 2015-16 budget.

The assistant transportation supervisor was in the original budget plan twice. The extra line was removed; the position is still in the budget, Squairs explained. The same has been done for some duplication in the costs for testing, she added.

“In total, we have reduced the budget $1.9 million,” she said. “The current projected draft 3 budget is $84,398,675 million.

“If we’re reducing the number of positions that we have etc, we’re going to have to take this to the public, then I don’t think we should have nine contractual raises in the budget,” board member Tom DeCastro said. “Nobody’s said anything about taking those out yet.”

The district will again dip into its reserves to help balance the budget. “I’m very hesitant to do that,” Halsey said. “But, I’m not sure we have any options.”

Right now they are looking at a levy estimate of 40.75 % as discussed at Thursday’s workshop. This is a direct result of lost revenue from the nuclear power plant agreement, Halsey noted.

That is based on the current assessed value. That value will change once the tax rolls come out; and it’s also based on equalization rate for each of the municipalities of 100 percent and may also change, the business administrator noted.

What would a 40 percent increase do to the tax rate? Board member Sam Tripp asked.

“On a $100,000 home, it would raise taxes $566 and your tax rate would go from 19.80 to 25.50 per $1,000,” Squairs said.

According to the state regulations, the district would still be under the tax cap, Halsey said.

“This increase on a $100,000 home will be refunded to the homeowner in the fall,” he pointed out. “Just like it was this year. That’s an important piece to keep in mind. Wherever we settle on a tax levy increase, we will be within our tax cap.”

If the current tentative spending is rejected by the voters, and the district went to a contingency budget, “it would cost us to make another $6 in reductions on top of what we already showed you today,” the superintendent told the board. And there’d still be a tax increase of $227.66 for an owner of a $100,000 home,” he said. “Even if we go out with the exact same budget number that we’re operating under this year.”

“There is nothing left in this budget, after the reductions that we’ve made, unless you want to start looking at positions that we could reasonably cut from this budget,” Squairs pointed out.

“It puts us in a challenging situation,” Halsey said.

“When does it stop? Every year it keeps going up and up and up. I mean at some point, we’re just a small district, it’s not going to be able to survive,” said Lynda Sereno, board vice president.

“Everybody’s in the same boat as us, Tripp said.

He doesn’t see the board going out to the public with the current budget plan.

“If we can pick up a half a million here and a half a million there (in reductions – savings) we need to do that. We need to be looking for that,” he said. “What we’re going to adopt is a number and we have to live within that number. We can change, we can move stuff around; but we can’t change the number once we approve it.”

“We’re asking our teachers etc to do more with less. We can do the same thing with the administration. They might have to hustle a little more to do evaluations … that would help sell this budget as far as the public is concerned,” DeCastro said.

“I think every move we make going forward, reductions, will have an impact on class size, what we offer across the district … I think what we did last year got us to the point where we have staff of our size school and what we value as a community that we want to continue to offer. Any move we make no going forward, reducing things, you’re going to bump class sizes, you’re going to eliminate some electives – it’s going to be felt by our students and staff,” the superintendent cautioned.

Even holding the budget flat, the district would still be asking for a ‘significant’ levy increase, due to a variety of reasons, he said.

People will be lining up advocating for their positions, while others will be advocating for lower taxes, he added.

“I firmly believe anything we go further than what we’ve already presented to you is going to have an impact. We have to be prepared for that,” he said. “I don’t think we have excesses lying around at this point.”

Sereno pointed out the board is discussing the budget in public, “trying to get it down to a manageable level. We’ve been working hard.”

Continuation of the budget discussion will likely dominate the board’s April 21 meeting.

According to the state, the board has until April 24 to adopt a budget proposal. A special meeting might be scheduled between the 21st and 24th to adopt the budget, the superintendent said.

A public hearing on the proposed spending plan will be held at the board’s May 5 meeting, which is slated to be held at the OHS cafeteria.

Halsey said he will give several presentations around the district before that meeting.

8 Comments

  1. You people better come up with something more realistic than the smoke & mirrors I’m reading here, my “NO” voting finger is itching beyond belief….WE DON’T HAVE IT SO YOU HAD BETTER NOT TRY TO GET IT!!! KEEP CUTTING, REAL CUTTING!!!!!

  2. Maybe they should look into how much they pay the coaching staff for athletics, the ticket takers for various events and not put the stipend amounts the teachers make into their retirement ,adding to the cost of retirement. Eliminate fees to see athletic events as other school districts do, just another tax on people. Then you could eliminate the ticket takers that are school teachers adding to their retirements.I’m sure the board can get someone to coach athletics for much less than they pay right now and probably do a better job. I wouldn’t bring a baseball coach to a math competition so why bring a math teacher to a baseball competition????

  3. No matter what happens with Oswego’s taxes, they are still low! This community was spoiled for years by the nuclear plants. Fulton on the other hand has had to suffer due to losing all of its factory support. Fulton is at the top of the highest taxpayers in the country-list. I’ve seen no complaints coming through in the news about taxpayers complaining about properly educating their kids. People want to complain about the high cost of education, what about the high cost of public safety, what about the crazy amounts that this county pays for cell phones for public employees, if you want to see crazy numbers, look in the county budget! Reduce your taxes by voting some of that budget allowance down. EDUCATION IS A MUST.

  4. Reason more and more taxpayers are leaving the city. Drive down any city block and see the houses for sale. My block alone there are 4, 4 in one city block. There are 13 of us in those 4 houses, leaving the city and we all work – loss of tax revenue. You better take a second look at what you are doing – you are driving the tax paying citizens away…..

  5. John Doe….you better do some better research. Oswego County taxes are low. Less than $10 a thousand. On the other hand Fulton School taxes are through the roof at over $27.00 per thousand. It’s not that Oswego is too low it’s that Fulton’s are too high.

  6. Education in the US is in trouble. NYS has its own issues, as we know. And, although Oswego has an excellent system, there are issues here, too. One is that the budget is heavy in several budget lines. I believe the BOE knows where that is, even if many residents don’t know what the issues are, just that they are paying more for each annual budget.

    One of my concerns is that while we have an excellent budget for all forms of technology, for athletics, less so for the arts, we are failing programs for students at risk. We ‘find’ the money for track/field repair, yet we have given up our former “Academy” programs. How MANY of our students will go on to professional level athletics, whereas, our at risk kids won’t be able to READ. Recently, we cancelled all FIELD TRIPS that benefit most students, not just the few who are athletic, musically or artistically inclined. Or MIGHT got into broadcasting. How about a balance? I still mourn the loss of the Academy.

    Further, our ‘budgets’ are out of line with the cost of living in the Oswego County community. After a almost a half century dependence upon industry (the energy industry was BIG in the 60s-90s) funding not only schools but much of the City budget, we’ve gotten ‘use’ to the luxuries these businesses provided. We no longer have industries to fund our expenditures!!! With fewer than a third that were here when the ‘new high school and middle school, was built, we still ‘spend’ in our budget(s) as if they are still available to help pay most of the cost!

    The average citizen in the Oswego School District makes under $35k for a family of four. Nowhere near what the budget requires for much of what educators believe we deserve. So a disproportionate amount of the ‘burden’ of taxation is placed on lower-middle class working families, while often the benefits are spread over the upper middle-class students who do not work after school, or who do not have parents unable to assist them with homework or projects because THEY are working more than one job to pay for these budgets. Even when they rent, tax increases are passed along through rental increases, more hours to work at minimum to pay for them.

    Most ‘good’ jobs are at either the nuclear plants, or Novelis, less so the hospital and the college, approximately 50 percent of the workforce in Oswego works for small independent businesses, not salaries far above minimum wage. When we increase taxes, THIS 30% of the population of the Oswego District pays for much of the cost of running not just our City, but our schools. This is an unfair burden on working families that Governor Cuomo is attempting to address, but Oswego is appears to be ignoring.

    So, please, BOE members, remember that you represent the residents of Oswego, as well as the school district! We place you in your seats to vote for not just the best school we can have, but the best school district we can $UPPORT. Most of us drive older autos, live in the City, not in the nicer homes outside, and cannot continue to pay the every-increasing costs of a school district with a lot of what may be seen as non-essentials. The essentials are to get our students up to a national standard of reading/writing and mathematical excellence that we don’t appear to see in public education.

    After a recent substantial reassessment of our property, several tax increases over the last decade, and water and sewer increases beyond what adjoining communities pay, in retirement my husband and I worry we cannot stay in Oswego. Too expensive to live here. But properties don’t sell, so we can’t leave either!

  7. Start by forcing the teaching staff at the high school and middle school to teach for more than 200 minutes per day. These people are not earning their outrageous salaries. If you get them up closer to 280 minutes per day, at least the taxpayers will somewhat be getting their money’s worth out of them and they could cut 20% of the teaching staff at those grade levels and save 2+ million dollars.

    Second suggestion is to fire at least 8-10 absolutely worthless administrators including the superintendent and business administrator who want to impose a 40% tax increase on the populace. This would upwards toward 2 million dollars in savings to the taxpayers.

    Third suggestion is to stop giving double inflation raises to the teaching staff and save 1.5 million.

    Fourth suggestion is to close at least one, if not two elementary schools, consolidate, increase class sizes by 10%, and realize the corresponding cut in the teaching staff by 10%. Realign to re-group the grade levels with fewer buildings. Today with 5 schools, they each have only a couple classrooms per grade level. The school district is not leveraging economies of scale. If you have 3 classrooms of 18 kids each, I acknowledge it’s tough to cut a teacher and bring the class sizes up to 27. But, if you divide the buildings by K-3 and 4-6 and group what is currently 6 or 7 classrooms of 18 kids, you can cut a teaching position, get 5-6 classrooms of 21-22 kids each which is more manageable. This could allow cutting approximately 12-14 teaching positions which would again save probably $1.5+ million dollars.

    Fifth suggestion take away the 10 “personal” days that the teaching staff gets. They can take personal time during Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, February break, April break, summer break, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Superintendent’s Conference Day, or the innumerable “half days”. This would save on substitute teaching costs and would keep the teachers in front of the children so that the children could have a better shot at a more consistent education.

    Sixth suggestion is to make the teaching staff pay more than what they pay for their platinum plus lifetime health care. Welcome to the real world, the hardworking private sector employees have to pay their fair share, so should these “professionals” in the schools.

    These are easy cuts that would have ZERO harmful impact to children’s education and could come a VERY long way in reducing the tax burden to the public.

  8. Jerry you have some awesome ideas – have you thought to share them. I would also like to say every time the topic of moving students to make a more economical plan the parents get up in arms and picket the school board and they back down. My nephews go to a school where it is K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. The district there is run efficiently – the kids are age appropriate for each other. Why can’t our board think outside the “BOX”. I know why – they would rather suck us taxpayers dry…..

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