Tupper Lake school board worried about future

TUPPER LAKE – The Tupper Lake school board elected a new president and vice president at a recent meeting.

Jane Whitmore, former vice president of the board, replaced Dan Mansfield as president, and Mark Yamrick replaced Whitmore as vice president.

Whitmore said her five years of experience on the board made her a good fit for the position, and that the children in the schools are her top priority.

“I’m all about the kids,” Whitmore said. “If we can restore some of the extracurricular activities and the good, solid programs for our kids, educationally and extracurricular, that’s where I’m at.”

Restoring programs might be difficult in the face of funding shortages, a looming problem that was discussed heavily at the meeting.

“For the 201314 budget, as I understand it, we borrowed from the fund balance $710,000, and then we had $100,000 from (state senator) Betty Little, so in effect we had $810,000 in non-renewable funding for this year,” new board member Trish Anrig said. “Since nothing has changed in our state aid for this year, next year, since we’ve tapped out all of those resources, we’d be basically looking at running in the red close to a million dollars.”

District Superintendent Seth McGowan countered that the figure was actually $910,000. He agreed there is a problem.

“This is exactly the problem and prediction I made three years ago, that the lower our tax levies and the lower our tax rates, the bigger this problem gets down the road,” McGowan said.

Anrig suggested that keeping the community informed is the best way to get it behind a future school budget.

“So clearly for the 201415 budget, we’re going to have to make hard decisions because there’s no other resources to have,” Anrig said. “If we’re going to have to look at that, I want to make informed decisions. If we want to get the backing of the community, I think we need to provide a lot of budget details and not summaries.”

She added that accounting for every penny spent is paramount to public understanding. For example, instead of budgeting for “transportation costs,” Anrig said the board should break it down to explain how much of that total cost goes toward things like sports transportation, bus drivers’ salaries and vehicle repairs. Enrollment by grade and every position in the school, including salaries and benefits, also need to be transparent, she said.

“I think we, as a board and as an administration, are going to need to demonstrate every dollar we spend, how it’s being spent, and that it’s being well spent,” Anrig said.

Board member Paul Ellis agreed with Anrig but said the major problem does not lie with the school board.

“When people voted on the budget, so much is focused locally, but the solution isn’t local – the solution is Albany,” Ellis said. “It is a revenue issue, and they haven’t come through with the things they’ve said they’d come through on. Right now, cutting things from the budget is just biding time.”

Ellis also suggested reaching out to community members and informing them on how they can get in touch with members of the state Legislature to insist on more money for schools.

The board also discussed creating a task force to help examine the school’s budget, determine where cuts can be made and pass budget information on to the public.

Whitmore said she liked the idea of a task force but would like to see Cuomo’s 201415 budget before anything is set in stone.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.