Tupper Lake school budget likely to be under tax cap, include layoffs

TUPPER LAKE – The revised 2013-14 budget for the Tupper Lake Central School District will likely come in under the state-imposed tax cap, and it will likely include layoffs.

District officials had been trying to avoid layoffs, which they had said would mean cutting programs for students, when they proposed a budget to voters with an 8.35 percent tax levy increase and a 7.64 percent increase in spending. Voters last week turned it down 685 to 512.

The school board held a special meeting Wednesday night so the district’s administrative team could get input from board members on what they want to see in a revised budget.

Board members said they want to see a budget that comes in under the district’s allowable tax levy increase of 4.76 percent, and several asked for it to go even lower, under 4 percent.

District Superintendent Seth McGowan told the school board he got a phone call from state Sen. Betty Little Wednesday morning, who told him she has access to some “bullet aid” available and could contribute $100,000 to the budget.

“So that, needless to say, will be very, very helpful,” McGowan said.

“It’s not a lot, but we thank her for every bit we can get,” said school board President Dan Mansfield.

McGowan said the money is a one-shot deal. While the district is in survival mode in the coming year, the following year will be critical, he said.

McGowan said he expects there to be a lot of conversation in Albany about school funding over the next year, rather than the topic just coming up again in December like usual.

“I think it’s a little bit different this year,” McGowan said.

That money represents about a 1.37 percent drop in the tax levy, McGowan said. He said the district needs to find a total of about $262,000 to get the tax levy under 4.76 percent.

McGowan said administration officials have had initial conversations with some of the employees whose jobs might be at risk. He told the school board that if they agree, the revised budget he plans to present at Monday’s regular school board meeting would reflect those layoffs, and then he would have final talks with those employees.

He said he hopes to cut jobs through attrition wherever possible.

School board members said they have faith in the administration to come up with a reasonable revised budget.

Board member Mark Yamrick said he wants to see the tax levy drop below 4 percent, lower than the district has to go to meet the tax cap.

“I agree with Mark – it can’t be any more than 4 percent,” said board member Dawn Hughes.

“The taxpayers have spoken,” board member Jane Whitmore said.

She said she agrees with what McGowan and district Business Manager Garry Lanthier have discussed in closed sessions.

Mansfield agreed with going below 4 percent as well, and he asked district officials to leave as much of the district’s reserve funds in place as possible.

“We know that it’s quite likely that next year, we may be in the same financial situations,” Mansfield said. “So it’s something that we need to keep in mind.”


Bus proposition

McGowan also asked school board members what they want to do about a school bus proposition that was voted down by a wide margin: 750-426.

He said he believes there was wide-scale misunderstanding about the proposition, which asked voters to let the district buy two new buses at a maximum cost of up to $230,500. It’s part of a bus recycling program the district has undertaken for the last few years.

McGowan said it wouldn’t be an outright cost. The money is borrowed, and little if any of it would have an impact on the 2013-14 budget.

He said it has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years, and it would seem counterproductive to do something different.

“It would wind up costing us so much more,” he said.

School board members suggested McGowan and Lanthier embark on a public information campaign to convince voters that the bus program is worthwhile. McGowan said he’ll include that topic in his presentation for Monday’s board meeting.

Board member Dawn Hughes said she believes voters think there are unused buses. McGowan said he’s not sure where that perception comes from, except that not all the district’s buses are out all of the time. Often one will be in for inspection or be set aside for a sporting event or emergency use.

He said he hears people complain that they see buses driving by with no kids in them. He noted that’s how it works, since kids are dropped off and then the buses have to return to the bus garage.

Next steps

McGowan said he plans to present a revised budget at a regular board meeting Monday based on the feedback he got Wednesday from the school board.

The revised budget will be up for another public vote June 18, the date scheduled by the state Education Department for all budget revotes across the state.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.