OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Oswego City School District’s budget carousel continues to spin. On Tuesday night, it headed in a new direction.
The school board was looking at two options. One was basically status quo, which would save approximately $2 million but at the cost of many programs and positions. Option two saved less money but spared programs and positions. However, students would be removed from Leighton Elementary School.
Superintendent Bill Crist recommended option two; and, at its last meeting, the board approved going with that option.
Tuesday night, board member Tom DeCastro said he was still opposed to closing Leighton, or any other school. He proposed option No. three.
The board voted 6-1, with Dave White voting no, to go with DeCastro’s plan. They then voted to rescind their previous vote that approved option two.
The board’s action received a resounding applause from the many Leighton supporters that packed the board room.
According to option three:
- No schools will be closed
- Elementary class size, K-2, will be between 20 to 22 while the 3-6 will be 23 to 25 students. At that time, the board will entertain the request for additional staffing.
- No new hires at 7-12 until each teacher has the responsibility for a minimum of 110 students to a max of 125 in regular education programs.
- Jobs will be reduced through retirements or employees who leave for another position outside the school district.
- Money to make up the gap and to reach a zero percent tax levy difference will come from reserves and surplus.
- Sixth grade will remain at the elementary level.
The superintendent cautioned that going in this direction, using so much of the reserves and surplus, would put the district at risk financially.
“We’re being rushed into making a decision that I don’t think that any of us are really ready to make at this time,” DeCastro said in making his proposal.
Negotiations with the nuclear plants should favor the district, he noted.
“With the passing of the 55/25 (retirement incentive for those 55 and older with 25 years of service) I am sure there is going to more high-end people that are going to be retiring. That should be a savings for us, also,” he said. “This gives us breathing room for a little over a year in which we can make a sound judgment as to what we’re going to do with our schools.”
Option two didn’t “close” a school, he pointed out, it displaced students.
“Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t put it back inside. So if we make changes now, that we’re not happy with, we’re going to look terrible,” DeCastro said. “We need to take time to do this.”
“We have more than $12 million in reserves that would cushion us,” board member John Dunsmoor added.
“This is all fundamental stuff that I have been screaming for all year,” board member Fran Hoefer said of DeCastro’s proposal.
“The only downfall to it is the fact that the community will have to realize that one year your kid might go to one school but as soon as the (class size hits the limit) you’re probably going to start seeing kids shift from one school to another,” Dunsmoor said.
“That means I could have a first grader at one building and a fourth grader at another building,” board president Sam Tripp observed.
“I think we should strive to keep families together,” Dunsmoor replied.
“I like this, Tom. I voted against option one and two,” Tripp said. “I like this option better.”
The community isn’t all opposed to closing a building, he added.
“They all understand the fiscal restraints that we have; we may need to close a building. The only reason that I didn’t want to close a building this year is I don’t think we’ve given it enough thought to come up with a good enough plan,” Tripp said. “I can support this with the understanding that we continue to look at redistricting and closing a building if, if the numbers warrant it.”
White said he made a decision (to go with option two) and is sticking by it.
“I think we should move on. We’re losing money, we’re losing kids,” he said.
“Right now, David, the one thing that we need to get out of our vocabulary is ‘close a school.’ We are not closing a school, we are displacing students. That building is still going to be open. (The Education Center) is still going to be open. We have not closed anything,” DeCastro said.
“Tommy, every place has done this, Liverpool, Syracuse, everyone has closed an elementary school and re-worked how they do things,” White responded.
“Let’s see what it saves us to put (option three) into place,” Dunsmoor suggested. “Let’s put this to bed for tonight and let them come back with numbers.
“If we’re doing this thing, are we saying nobody loses their job?” White asked.
“No,” Tripp said.
“Then we are back to option one under a different name,” White said. “I’m not supporting this.”
“I have to go on the record as the superintendent of schools that you’re putting the district at risk financially by what you’re proposing this evening, the direction you’re proposing to take,” Crist said. This is my community, too. I am concerned about the implications of some of what has been discussed this evening, some of the direction that you’re asking all of us to move forward on. We will certainly bring information back to you on Tuesday that will be to your liking, I’m sure. But I’m concerned about the risk that you are putting the district and ultimately this community at by proposing some of the things that have been brought forth this evening.”
“If the board wants to take greater risks (with the budget), than I am presenting as a recommendation, they are free to do it,” said Pete Colucci, the district’s business manager.
Dunsmoor noted the district could be sitting on an $18 million of reserves and should budget for what it spends, not budgeting for a surplus.
“To continue to have that much surplus, I totally disagree with you on,” Dunsmoor told Colucci.
There will be a preliminary budget hearing, open to the public, on April 6. It is tentatively set to start at 7 p.m. at the OHS cafeteria.
“How can we have a public hearing on the budget when we don’t have a budget?” White said. “We’ve got to have something for them to look at.”