Second Tupper Lake school budget well under cap

TUPPER LAKE – The second version of the Tupper Lake Central School District’s 2013-14 budget comes in well under the state’s tax cap.

After the first version of the budget failed a public vote in May, district Superintendent Seth McGowan told the school board Monday night that he and Business Manager Garry Lanthier came up with a new version that would levy $7,587,554 on property taxpayers, an increase of $274,954, or 3.76 percent, over the current school year. Under the cap, the district is allowed to raise the tax levy 4.76 percent with a simple majority of voter approval; beyond that requires 60 percent.

“So this revised levy is one full (percentage) point below the tax cap,” McGowan said.

The newly proposed tax rate would be an estimated $12.84 per $1,000 in assessed property value, a 65-cent increase over the current year. That means for a house assessed at $150,000, school taxes would go up $97.50 to $1,926.

The new version of the budget includes a $987,980 spending increase, or 6.17 percent, over this year, bringing total spending to $16,997,957.

It would eliminate seven instructional positions: a speech improvement specialist, two special education positions, a science teacher, a school psychologist, a foreign language teacher and a social studies teacher.

The science and the social studies teacher positions would be layoffs, while the rest of those jobs will be eliminated after someone retires or resigns, McGowan said.

About 20 students came to last week’s school board meeting to protest the layoff of their social studies teacher, Scott Tower.

Some have said the reductions in teaching staff have not been enough to keep up with the decline in school enrollment. McGowan countered that, saying that with the second budget version’s reductions, both the instructional staff and student enrollment will have dropped by 15 percent from 2008 to 2013.

Between those positions and some other reductions, the district has cut $671,376 since the beginning of the budget process, McGowan said.

There are eight other areas where administrators have come up with new savings, including McGowan taking a pay freeze. He made $130,732 in salary and $35,774 in benefits in the current school year and was slated to make $133,347 in salary and $41,327 in benefits in 2013-14. He took a freeze once before in the past, three years ago when the district laid off about a quarter of its instruction staff.

He also announced that his secretary, Diane Dechene, plans to retire and her position will be converted to part-time. He said he hopes she will stay on part-time.

McGowan said the district will also eliminate junior varsity basketball, the last of the district’s JV sports to get cut, as well as fifth- and sixth-grade basketball, and out-of-town field trips.

The district will eliminate six paid club and activity adviser positions – for the high school and elementary school newspapers, the Green Team, TAP, the audio-visual club and the downhill ski club – plus an elementary school stage and set designer. McGowan said those are the positions the administration thought would have the least impact and the most possibility for being funded in other ways. He said he hopes those positions can be moved back into the general fund in the long run.

McGowan said there are also likely some savings to be found in food service. He said district officials had met with specialists about the possibility of contracting out the district’s food services, and while they found that wouldn’t save money, there were other suggestions on how to increase revenue and reduce costs in the district’s cafeterias.

The district would still use $500,000 in reserves toward next year’s budget.

McGowan said that the budget is made to adapt and survive. He said that while educators want to give their students the highest-quality education, the district isn’t able to do that with its financial problems.

“This is not a recommendation,” McGowan said Monday. “This is a must-do to get through.”

The school board adopted the new budget unanimously.

About a dozen people showed up to the school board meeting, but no one said anything during the public comment period. The district’s hearing on the failed budget only turned up one speaker, who urged people to vote in favor.

The original budget was voted down 685-512. The public will get to vote on the second version June 18.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or