School Board, Public Hear Final Budget Update

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego City School District Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey updated the board of education  and the public on the 2014-15 budget situation during Tuesday night’s board meeting in the OHS theatre.

The district’s projected budget for the next school year is $79.9 million and includes a four-percent tax increase.

Tuesday’s presentation was built on a lot of feedback from previous public budget discussions as well as smaller meetings with district officials, according to the superintendent.

“There’s no perfect resolution to this. But what we tried to do is, we have a gap, we have some uncertain revenue in front of us, and so we tried to make reductions that are diversified and didn’t affect any one particular area completely,” he explained.

The budget gap is $1.7 million. The proposed cuts total about $2.4 million.

“The reason we went higher than the 1.7 is the revenue is very uncertain; with a large commercial entity in limbo between a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) and the tax rolls. Because of that, we need to build in some contingency should the revenues not come in at the level we projected,” he said.

Getting to that number included some changes to the district’s Big Picture School (the Buc School).

“I don’t want to say elimination of the Buc School because I don’t view it that way. I view it as restructuring it into our middle school and our high school,” Halsey explained. “In doing so it is a significant savings, using the staff that is in that building. We are reducing teaching positions in the high school, still anticipating Buc students that are going to be coming back to that building. That shows you how inefficient the current system really is. If we can bring those students back and craft a plan for them educationally and still reduce staff, you know there were inefficiencies that we have to address. Enrollment has come down. Our staffing hasn’t come down with it.”

He admits the program has been a success for the students in its current format. He believes that it can still be a success with a little different restructuring.

However, the majority of the speakers Tuesday night urged the board not to make cuts in the Buc School program as it is now.

Eliminating the alternative school (all nine positions associated with it and associated costs) would result in a savings of $762,368, the superintendent said, adding that the program isn’t being done away with, just the “school” site in the Education Center.

One of the Buc School students took the superintendent to task for not coming down a couple floors from his office to visit the school and see what goes on there.

Colleen Emond said her son has made “tremendous strides” not only in his education but in self confidence and social skills thanks to the Buc School. Kathy Rice, the parent of another Buc student, said the only way to meet the needs of the district’s diverse student body is to have a variety of learning programming, of which the Buc School is a big part, she said.

“There are many students that don’t fit into these other programs that we have in place,” she added.

Marilyn Dirk, whose grandchild attends the Buc School, quoted Edward Austin Sheldon regarding the importance of schools such as the Big Picture School.

John Rice said the school was more a “family” to him, and has “given me more opportunities than I could ever have imagined.”

Another parent pointed out that they were rallying for their children (at the Buc).

Jamie Turtura, the parent of two Leighton students, spoke out against cuts that would result in larger class sizes.

Teddy Beers, a phys ed teacher in the district, thanked the board for reconsidering reductions that would have cut phys ed teachers.

Board member John Dunsmoor said until the vision of how the Buc School students will be blended back into OMS and OHS is explained to him, he would like to see the current site continue.

“If we can do what our vision, what our Big Picture vision was, and do it more efficiently, that should be done every day and not at budget times,” he said.

“We talked about the Buc program and how we could continue to service these children within a building where they are in close proximity to the rest of the school population. We would give a directive to the administrators in whatever building that the district came up with in the plan and have the administrator oversee the Buc program, not the school, the Buc program, so that we might be able to cut this budget down,” board member Lynda Sereno explained. “I don’t think any of us sitting at this table want to eliminate the Buc program. Having a separate school is costing us money.”

Board member Sam Tripp said he “isn’t in favor of throwing these kids back into a system where they are going to fail.” But, he also believes the superintendent’s vision that they will provide the program for the kids in the traditional school setting, he added.

On Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. the board will meet in the Education Center Curriculum Center on the second floor.