Lake Placid school budget meets tax cap, for now

LAKE PLACID – The Lake Placid Central School District’s 2013-14 budget currently meets state tax cap requirements without laying anyone off.

The budget process is far from over, but for now, the district’s total budget comes in at $17,097,680, a 1.65 percent increase over the current year’s budget. The tax levy is currently estimated at $14,201,792, a 3 percent increase.

Leonard Sauers, the district’s budget officer, said the estimated levy is at the “maximum allowable” amount. If the budget went to a vote today, it would need a simple majority to be approved. A tax levy increase higher than 3 percent would require at least 60 percent approval from voters.

“We don’t have to reduce the budget any more to get to where we need to be to comply with the levy cap,” Sauers said at a budget work session Tuesday.

“What I was looking for in a budget for this year is one that would allow us to kind of maintain where we are,” school board President Mary Dietrich said. “So that we then have time to really study and look at systemic changes.

“Systemic changes, well systemic changes can’t happen spur of the moment. They really require very thoughtful conversation with all stakeholder groups. They really involve deep analysis and research so that we can really understand what the impact of these systemic changes are going to be on student achievement and plan for that.”

The tax rate would be $6.78 per $1,000 of assessed value, if assessments remain steady. That would be about 20 cents more than the current tax rate.

To get to the current budget levels, the district had to eliminate several positions at the elementary and middle-high schools, all through attrition. At the elementary school, one teaching and two teaching assistant jobs, which will become vacant at the end of the year due to retirement, are being left unfilled. Additionally, a librarian position at the middle-high school will open up at the end of the year, and the board currently has no plans to fill it.

An on-site computer technician, purchased through the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services, would also be cut, representing a savings of approximately $32,000. That would leave the district with a technician for just three days a week, which is what the schools have been getting by with for most of this year, Dietrich said.

The budget would also slash summer school for a savings of about $41,000, and eliminate the school’s Alpine skiing program, a reduction of about $19,500.

School board member John Hopkinson implored his colleagues to find ways to reduce the district’s $1 million in BOCES expenses.

“All we’ve done is kind of reduced the increase back to net zero,” he said. “I just can’t believe that there isn’t six-figure numbers in BOCES that (aren’t) absolutely essential programs that we’re volunteering to pay for that couldn’t be eliminated.”

So far, the board has cut its BOCES budget by $80,000, but Hopkinson said that only negates the projected increase from this year to 2013-14. Sauers said many of the services purchased through BOCES are necessary.

“If we don’t do them, we’re going to have to have that service somewhere, and we’re going to incur an expense,” he said. “There might be something out there on the open market that we could get (for a) better (cost), but do we have the time when we need that service?

“That’s one of the reasons we do use BOCES.”

The district does get a percentage back from the state when it buys BOCES services.

Sauers said he doesn’t think the board will be able to find more than $100,000 in savings within the BOCES budget.

“There may be a few other things in there that we do not absolutely need,” he said. “Without looking, and without getting the input from the people who use those services day in and day out, and to go ahead and just slash something without knowing what the end result is going to be, is a big mistake.”

Hopkinson said he’s not advocating for the board to blindly cut its BOCES budget, and he stressed that he doesn’t have a vendetta against BOCES. But he said it’s one of the few areas the board has control over when it comes to spending.

“There’s latitude there that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” Hopkinson said. “If we haven’t had the time to really explore this in depth this year, this should absolutely be top of the list of things that we should turn over every rock and start a long-term program looking into the future. Everything is going against us in almost every area.”