Few speak at Lake Placid school budget hearing

WILMINGTON – The Lake Placid Central School District’s proposed 2013-14 budget hasn’t generated much controversy so far. That trend continued at a public hearing Tuesday night at the Wilmington Community Center.

Only seven people attended the hearing, which began with a brief budget presentation by district Superintendent Randy Richards and Budget Officer Leonard Sauers. Of that seven, only two – Board of Education candidate Richard Preston and Lake Placid Middle-High School Secretary Sarah Adams – asked questions, which were technical in nature and didn’t directly address the overall spending plan.

The proposed budget would increase the tax levy by 3 percent to $14,201,792, meeting the state’s property tax cap. Total spending, if voters approve the plan on May 21, is $17,097,680, up 1.65 percent from this year.

Richards said the board’s goal is to strengthen programs during a time of dwindling resources.

“The challenges in this new era continue,” he said. “The rules change significantly with this (tax levy) limit. … It really puts a lid on school districts.”

Richards said the board did a good job of increasing transparency in the budget process. He noted that a Budget Advisory Focus Group was used to gather input on the spending plan.

Richards said the district still needs to address maintenance needs, and he added that state Education Department initiatives will continue to put pressure on the district.

“These, of course, will have financial implications for the district,” he said.

Sauers said the board had to make $478,000 in reductions to get to the 3 percent tax levy increase. The board started with a potential 3.9 percent spending increase and a 6.48 percent tax levy increase.

The budget would cut one elementary teaching position, two teaching assistants, a part-time speech therapist and a half-time librarian, all through attrition. Additionally, the board opted to cut operating budgets and material expenses, as well as distance learning programs and media services that in the past have been purchased through the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Budget increases include a $111,477 hike in salaries and $57,320 more in health insurance costs.

Sauers said $350,000 of the district’s fund balance was used to lower the tax levy in the proposed budget.

State aid makes up about 14 percent of the district’s total revenue, Sauers said. The remaining 86 percent is generated locally through the tax levy. Total state aid next year is just under $2.5 million, an increase of about $186,500 over this year.

Administrative expenses make up about 10.9 percent of the budget, and capital expenses make up about 16 percent. About 73 percent of spending is directly attributed to educational programs.

The estimated tax rate, Sauers said, is $6.78 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That figure will remain the same as long as assessments hold steady, Sauers said.

“The tax rate will actually get set in August when we do get the final (tax) rolls,” he said.

For someone with a $300,000 home, the estimated impact is a $61 increase for 2013-14, Sauers added.

Richards said the budget sustains and improves a “full and diverse educational program.” He said the district’s student achievement ranks high when compared to other area schools.

On May 21, voters will also decide whether to support the district’s Energy Savings Capital Project. The project includes replacement of an electric boiler and cooling tower at the Lake Placid Elementary School. The district will move forward with the project regardless of the results from the vote, but if taxpayers back it, the district becomes eligible for more state aid.

The ballot question reads, “Shall the Trustees of the Lake Placid Central School District be allowed to apply for an additional 10% state building aid for its Energy Savings Capital Project and the financing thereof?” The measure needs a simple majority to pass.

The total projected cost is $731,404, of which about $708,500 is eligible for reimbursement from the state.

Voters will also fill two three-year terms on the Board of Education. They have three candidates to choose from: John Hopkinson, Jennifer Tufano and Preston.

A second budget hearing is scheduled in Lake Placid next week.


Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.