OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Superintendent of schools Bill Crist presented his proposed spending plan for 2010-11 to the board of education Tuesday night.
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 Oswego Middle School.
The middle school would become a 6-8 facility, which is widely recognized and accepted for delivering middle level education, Crist said. That would allow for the students to enter high school better prepared, he added.
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 and two would be administrators, he said.
The remaining 20.4 would be support staff.
Retirements have the potential to change the way staff reductions play out, the superintendent noted.
“Over the next few years, it’s going to be a difficult budget season,” the superintendent said.
Our district has been a very proud district in terms of providing small class sizes and programs in technology, music and the arts that are recognized statewide even nationally in some cases, Crist noted.
“As we cross the bridge into the financial situation of the state, we recognize that our state is in the state of chaos and flux with regard to funding and being able to support not only schools but many other programs and agencies,” he said.
The county is facing double-digit unemployment, he added.
The district is also grappling with increases in health insurance and estimate it to be about 15 percent, he said, adding that ERS (employee retirement system) and TRS (teacher retirement system) are expected to be 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively, higher in terms of increases.
“We’re looking at a budget gap of about $5.5 million. It doesn’t come easy to find ways to close that gap,” Crist said. “I’m proposing we redistrict our elementary program and in so doing utilize four of our elementary schools as a K-5 configuration.”
That’s a recognized and accepted model for delivering elementary instruction, he pointed out.
The reconfiguration committee, with the understanding that the Education Center is for sale, unanimously spoke of Leighton being the school of choice should the Ed Center sell, the superintendent said.
“We’d populate the intermediate wing of Leighton Elementary School with the district office. The primary wing of the school would include our entire Pre-K program as well as an integrated preschool education program that would deal with students with special needs. That would be a county-wide program,” Crist explained.
Some of the other classroom space that would be available would be used for BOCES work study program, basically for high school age students.
One option could save the district more than $2 million, but it would gut programs and increase class sizes. So he decided to present the four elementary school model budget that saves a bit less ($1.852 million) but is a savings that will be compounded over the years, Crist explained.
“It’s a rollover savings that occurs annually,” he said.
Crist explained why Leighton was picked as the school to close.
Supporters say it is the largest elementary school and should therefore stay open. Crist pointed out that Leighton’s size offers opportunities for it to be used for more than just district offices.
Other reasons include its proximity to the high school, there would be a reduction in traffic congestion, it allows for the possible of a site for an alternative school and more.
“It’s an emotional decision to look at breaking away from a neighborhood (school) concept,” he said. But, there are many other schools that no longer exist in the city because of changes over the years, he added.
“Our district has lost 948 students in a 10-year period,” Crist said. “It would be irresponsible of me as a superintendent to not look at our declining enrollment, our eroding tax base and the economic crisis in our state and not do this. It screams at me that we have to look at other ways and more efficient ways to do what we’re doing.”
He said he plans to use some of the district’s surplus and a responsible use of reserves to help close the budget gap.
The 2.5 percent tax levy increase would mean that taxpayers who own a home assessed at $100,000 (with STAR) would pay $37.70 more for the year, or $3.14 a month, Crist said. For a home assessed at $70,000 it would be $21.55 or $1.80 a month, he added.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, more than a dozen residents spoke out during the public session opposing the closing of Leighton.
They urged the board to save Leighton and said investing more in elementary education would benefit the students in their high school careers. Closing Leighton would create over-crowding in classrooms, create higher transportation costs, and other problems, they said.
OHS freshman and former Leighton student Jeremy Galvin said it would be difficult for students to learn in classes with 30 students; he received applause from the huge crowd when he wondered if the administrators would be able to function efficiently in an office with 30 people.
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget April 13; taxpayers get their chance on May 18.
A public hearing on the budget is set for April 6.