As budget vote looms, school officials look to the future

LAKE PLACID – Lake Placid Central School District officials are already talking about future budgets, even though voters still have to weigh in on the proposed spending plan for 2013-14.

The Enterprise sat down with Board of Education President Mary Dietrich and district Budget Officer Leonard Sauers recently to talk about some of the financial issues the school district faces in the coming years. Dietrich said she expects work on the 2014-15 budget to begin in July, and she wants to convene a diverse group of school, business, government and community leaders to help the district craft a plan to deal with annual deficits of up to $1 million in the coming years.

Next year’s budget goes to a public vote on May 21. It would increase the tax levy by 3 percent, meeting the property tax cap, and cut five full- and part-time positions through attrition. Public budget hearings are scheduled for May 7 in Wilmington and May 14 in Lake Placid.

“This was a process,” Dietrich said of the proposed budget. “We started out with anticipating a lot of staff cuts and program cuts. It wasn’t a direction that the board was really comfortable going at this point. We just felt that with the new superintendent coming in and two new principals coming in, it was really important to establish as strong a foundation as we possibly could for that. I think this budget has done that.”

A new Budget Advisory Focus Group aided the board in developing the proposed 2013-14 budget. Dietrich said that group was a “good addition” to the budget process.

“In large part, that’s why we ended up with the budget we did,” she said. “What they recommended, we were able to do.”

Dietrich said the board wants to bring back those stakeholder groups to participate in a discussion about “what we are as a district.

“What, philosophically, do we stand for in this district, and what do we need to provide our students in order for them to be successful and productive members of society?” she said. “Then we can create a three- to five-year plan in terms of how do we get to that.”

Under the tax cap, Sauers said projections are dim for school districts. For Lake Placid, he said the worst-case scenario is a deficit situation within the next three years.

“This year, we were able to back off on some of the appropriated fund balance that we were using by $150,000,” Sauers said. “That’s going to create a little bit more of a cushion, so it maybe is going to give us another year or two. But we did a real good job of fine-tuning every expense we have this year.”

Looking ahead, Dietrich said the board and the school community may need to talk about whether the district needs to exceed the tax cap to provide a quality education.

“We have a constitutional obligation to provide our students with a quality education,” she said. “We also have a responsibility to the taxpayers to do that as efficiently as we can. That’s what we’re all committed to.”

Dietrich said a three- or five-year plan would have to inventory the strengths of the district’s current staff “and look at how we can maximize using their strengths in the best and most efficient way.

“That’s a part of what has to happen,” she said. “That comes from sitting down and talking with them.”

The board plans to appoint two new principals – one at the middle school and one at the high school – at its May 7 meeting. Later this month, Roger Catania will replace Randy Richards as superintendent, and then the board will look to replace elementary school Principal Javier Perez, who stepped down recently to take a job with the AuSable Valley Central School District.

Dietrich said the new administrative team will play a key role in developing a long-term financial plan for the district. She said she expects those discussions to begin on July 1, and then pick up steam.

“That’s why we have them in place,” she said. “They really are our eyes in this building.”

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or