OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego Board of Education gathered Tuesday evening to get an early start on what the 2011 – 2012 school district budget will look like.
Board president Dave White gave each of the members an opportunity to tell Superintendent Bill Crist and the other administrators what they would like to see, or not see, in the coming school year’s budget.
Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has proposed a two percent property tax cap (the previous cap was four percent), according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Pete Colucci.
“Things aren’t really clear in the (state) legislature’s proposals yet that would impact the schools,” Colucci said, adding that the levy increase could amount to $694,000.
“There aren’t as lot of details,” he said. “The election was only a couple weeks ago.
“The administration needs to come up with some innovative ideas on how to run the district without destroying the educational programs. To me, the bottom line comes down to dollars and cents,” board member Sam Tripp said.
“There are some creative solutions out there that people are proposing but a lot of it will be based on legislation, legislation at the state level” Colucci noted.
“If we need to wait for Albany, we’ll be way beyond our budget period,” Tripp pointed out.
“We can put the appropriations side of the budget together relatively quickly,” Crist said. “It’s the revenues side that’s a problem.”
“I want a $10 million cut in the budget for next year,” board member Fran Hoefer said. “I want this budget to get down somewhere near reason. We’re losing children; we’re spending money like there’s no tomorrow, we need to get more efficient. I want a $60 million budget next year.”
“I look around and I think one of the most important things to do is not to panic, not to rush to judgment and not to draw a lot of scary scenarios,” board member Jim Tschudy said. “A lot of things happen in sequence. We can take them one at a time. I think that our priority always has to be conserving and preserving what we’ve got in the way of a quality education for the kids in our district. When times are difficult, my theory is education is the one place where you can invest and you have the greatest promise of return.”
“We are in a tough situation, trying to balance the education of our kids while still representing the taxpayers in the district,” board member Tom DeCastro added. “I agree with Sam (Tripp), I am not for not in favor of gutting the educational system. That would be one way of saving a lot of money. But, I think that’s got to be the last resort. I’m not for destroying what we have. We need to maintain the educational system that we have. We need to take, as Jim (Tschudy) said, a long patient look. We had a few years with a zero percent increase (in the tax levy). That can’t go on forever. We might have to consider the possibility of a tax increase.”
“I totally believe that we can continue the zero percent tax increase,” board vice president John Dunsmoor said.
The revenue streams should be better than what the district has had recently, he added.
He said the district needs to get more efficient about how it educates children.
“If we have kids that just don’t want to show up, don’t want to participate, I really don’t think we should be giving them one-on-one help,” Dunsmoor said. “There are a lot of very good teachers, employees and a lot of very good students in our educational system and I think that’s really where we need to spend our money.”
The district should “stop spinning our wheels and spending money on people who don’t want to be here,” he added.
Hoefer agreed. It was his contention that the students who didn’t care to apply themselves or show up to school deserved to fail.
“They don’t deserve one-on-one help. If you don’t make an effort, you don’t get rewarded,” he said.
“Families come in all shapes and sizes, and kids do as well,” Tschudy said. “We’ve got kids who sometimes on the appearance may make us think that they’re not putting out their best effort. We’ve got some kids who bring out their best effort … The quality of the district is measured by what it does for the least of its kids. What it does for the kids who have the hardest time learning; what it does for the kids who come to school that haven’t had breakfast or mom and dad were fighting all night and they don’t know where their books are because their house is in a mess.”
“I’d really appreciate it if the unions would come forward and put something on the table, a legitimate offer so we do have somewhere we can start,” Dunsmoor said.
Dunsmoor also wants to have a strict budget calendar adhered to as the process moves along.
The board members told the administrators they’d like to also have more information about how the Contract for Excellence funds are being spent, whether increasing the walking distance (for older students to get to school) would amount to any savings, and get more feedback from “the people in the trenches” – building principals and staff about the way things are bring done, what can Race To The Tops funds be used for, and are they getting the best deal on health care.