OSWEGO, NY – The proposed 2011-12 school budget was unveiled at Monday night’s school board meeting.
Superintendent Bill Crist’s tentative $74,844,748 spending plan for the next school year cuts about 23 full-time positions overall.
Among the reductions would be seven support staff, a dozen teaching and teaching assistant positions and two administrators.
The budget would increase the tax rate by 43 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the superintendent said.
Crist also pointed out that the proposed budget is $3,297 less than the current budget.
Some of the cuts are “soft cuts,” according to the superintendent, such as an assistant principal position at the high school that isn’t filled. Others are retirements where, if filled, the new person would be earning less than the person that retired, he added.
The superintendent cited the teachers’ union for agreeing to an agreement extending OCTA’s contract for one year with a salary freeze.
It saves the district $88,000 in step raises, Crist said, adding a one percent increase in wages is equivalent to $241,000.
“I would like to echo that also,” said board member Sam Tripp. “It’s a big step for our district. I want to thank all the OCTA members.”
Some other board members also chimed in in agreement.
During the public session prior to the meeting, nearly a dozen people spoke out in support of positions on the chopping block.
Theresa Stevens urged the board to reconsider cutting the New Visions program.
She told the story of one OHS graduate who took part in the health side of New Visions and continued on to become a doctor. In closing, she read a letter from the doctor supporting the New Visions program.
OHS senior Jacqueline Hondro, a New Visions (health) student, explained just how beneficial the program has been to her and others.
“On days we don’t have rotation (at the hospital), we take classes and get credit from SUNY Oswego; three credits in biology and six credits in English,” she explained.
Deb Smith spoke in support of the study skills course at OMS. She provided the board with a large amount of information about what the class actually does for the students entering middle school.
“It’s beneficial to know what exactly it is that you may be cutting and what it entails before you actually do it,” she said.
Dr. Christina Walsh from SUNY Oswego touted the need to save the district’s director of literacy.
Bill Reilly, owner of the river’s end bookstore, urged the board to retain the director of literacy position also.
“The thought of eliminating the director of literacy position in our school district is simply mind-boggling to me,” he said.
He reminded everyone of how she spearheaded the Oswego Reads program, which brought author Greg Mortenson to Oswego last year.
Tammy Thompson asked the board why they were even considering cutting the assistant director of special education.
“It is 100 percent federally funded,” she pointed out. “Cutting this position would not lower city taxpayers’ taxes. It would not have any bottom line affect on the budget. What it would do is have a direct affect on the kids who receive special education services in the district.”
“If it’s already federally funded, why would you cut (the position),” John Bosco asked the board. “It’s not costing us anything; it’s not costing the taxpayer anything. It’s kind of a foolish move. It’s a bone head move; I’m going to tell you all that right now.”
Without the assistant, the director of special education won’t be able to get the job done, “and you know it,” he told the board. “With all due respect, really, come on folks. This is not costing anybody a plug nickel.”
“None of these people should be cut in the first place. They need more help, not less,” he continued.
Christy Stepien, an AIS math teacher, spoke in favor of retaining the director of mathematics position.
“Under her leadership we have seen tremendous growth and improvement in the New York State math test results,” she pointed out.
OMS Librarian Mary Alice Burnell pointed out the negative impacts of cutting an elementary library position.
“If you do reduce one, there librarians will serve five elementary buildings,” she said. “The elementary students would see a dramatic loss of instructional time.”
A preliminary budget hearing will be held at 6 p.m. March 29.
The board is slated to vote on the budget plan on April 12.
The public will get its chance on May 17.