Conservative Tupper Lake school budget planned

TUPPER LAKE – Tupper Lake Central School District officials are planning for the worst when it comes to the budget for the next school year.

Superintendent Seth McGowan delivered an early budget forecast to the district’s Board of Education Monday night. Based on what the state is projecting now, he said district officials expect a $60,000 reduction in aid, a loss of 0.8 percent.

That would be in line with the trend the district has seen in the last few years, although Tupper Lake schools saw a slight increase in aid this current school year. In the 2008-09 school year, the district received $8.8 million from the state, representing 55.4 percent of its general fund budget. This year, state aid to the district amounted to $7.56 million, or 47.2 percent of its budget.

McGowan said the less state aid the district gets, the more local taxpayers have to make up the difference.

“The troubling aspect of all of this is not the decrease in funding but the decreasing percent of the total budget,” he said. “It’s leveled off a little bit, but even if we keep the same amount, that doesn’t allow for much of any increase in the budget. Knowing there are costs outside of our control, that has the feeling of being very problematic.”

Just how much state aid the district gets is still up in the air, McGowan said, and is complicated by many factors, including how much money the state plans to set aside for Superstorm Sandy relief. More will be known when Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his Executive Budget proposal later this month, McGowan said.

Planning ahead, McGowan said he will take a conservative approach to assembling the 2013-14 budget and base it on the lowest state aid numbers the district has seen in recent years.

“If we assume the least amount of money coming from Albany, we can start with the worse-case scenario and work up from there,” McGowan said.

He said the district is not likely to consider additional programs, although it is possible that instructional staff may need to be added because of the mandates in the state Board of Regents Reform Agenda and other factors, McGowan explained.

Staff has been asked to keep their spending and requisition proposals at the same level as last year.

The state’s property tax cap, which is in its second school year, will also have to be weighed when putting together the budget, the superintendent said.

“We really need to be considerate of the 2 percent cap,” said board President Dan Mansfield. “Whether we agree it’s a good thing or a bad thing, the community is really expecting that.”

At the same time, Mansfield said he doesn’t want the administration to be afraid to suggest areas of the budget, like security, where they think additional funding could be added.

“If there is anything, don’t be scared (to bring it up), but if there isn’t, let’s stick to the 2 percent,” Mansfield said.

Board Vice President Jane Whitmore said it would be worthwhile to look at restoring some of what was lost when the district cut its budget dramatically several years ago, if possible.

McGowan ended the presentation by reading from a resolution he plans to send to the governor and the state Legislature. It asks them to stand up to lobbyists and end things like the Triborough Amendment (which prevents government from changing terms of an expired labor contract until a new one is reached) and the Wicks Law (which makes government get separate contractors for contruction, plumbing, electricity, etc., when building), and to cap school districts’ responsibility for the increasing cost of health insurance.

“Currently educational leaders spend more time focusing on costs and less on instruction and curriculum,” McGowan said. “It’s bad for the students, bad for the schools and bad for New York state. You, as elected officials, have the power to set the course correctly. It’s your mandate to legislate.”

At its Feb. 4 meeting, the school board plans to review the current year’s budget and ask the public for suggestions on programs that should be added or deleted.