Sports, music face budget cuts in Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE – Athletics and music programs may soon be on the budget chopping block, meaning some students may not be able to play their favorite sport or jam out with a musical instrument.

Even though the combined total cost of sports and music, $540,786, may appear to be a miniscule part of the district’s $28,080,442 budget, Assistant Superintendent Dan Bower opened Wednesday’s school board meeting explaining the direness of the situation.

“We need to start from scratch; we need to look at every program,” Bower said. “We have to recognize that reductions to staff are likely to be necessary to stay within the tax cap,”

Superintendent, Diane Fox said the debate is not over cutting just sports or just music; it’s about finding cuts that affect the least amount of students by participation and considering the costs involved.

“If you’re a big music fan, you say, ‘Look at all the sports we offer’. If you’re a big sports fan, you say, ‘Look at all the music.'” Fox said. “But it’s not going to be sports versus music.”

Fox continued to say the perception is there are two niches at the school: sports and music. She said that isn’t exactly true because 14 percent of students participate in both sports and music.

The meeting had its tense moments. Talking about cutting staff and programs was difficult for some on the school board members. Debra Lennon, school board president, recognized it.

“It’s really hard to talk about these things,” Lennon said.

Breaking down the numbers

The athletics program cost $374,228 for the year, or 1.3 percent of the budget. That figure does not include costs from gym classes, which are a state requirement. The cost per student participant is $502. There are 387 students in the district who play sports.

The music programs cost $166,558 for the year, or 0.6 percent of the budget. The state does require one full-time music teacher. The cost per student participant is $532. There are 313 students on the district roster for music.

Seeing the big picture

If the district continues to maintain its current level of staff, services and programs, the 2014-15 budget would increase by more than $1.5 million over that of the current school year.

The school district will ask for $375,000 in additional revenue that it will attempt to raise through the tax levy, which is close to the 2 percent cap.

Pension costs from 2009 to 2013 increased by 45 percent and employee health insurance increased 28 percent. The Affordable Care Act added $1 million in cost to the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES district, Fox said.

In the last four years, Saranac Lake schools have cut 40 positions, both teaching and non-teaching, closed two schools, eliminated summer school and reduced extracurricular activities.

Opinions on the tax cap

When the topic changed to the tax cap, opinions were mixed. School board member Shir Filler said the state isn’t doing enough.

“It’s true that the (state) budget forecasts a surplus,” Filler said. “But frankly, the state is not funding education. It is just not a priority for them. That’s just the way it is.”

Jon Vinograd, of Saranac Lake, walked into the meeting and voiced his opinion on the matter almost immediately.

“You’re going to strip (down to) your requirements? Good.” Vinograd said.

Vinograd said that in the 1980’s, the voters rejected a tax levy increase and the district was forced to choose between a sports field and an auditorium.

“This will create a landscape where taxpayers can say that this is good for the kids and good for the community,” he said.

Information for the next meeting

For more information on the slideshow Fox presented, visit

A preliminary budget will be discussed during the next school board meeting on Feb. 5 at 6 p.m.