Some Saranac Lake teachers warned they may be laid off

SARANAC LAKE – Teachers on a short list for potential staff reductions in the Saranac Lake Central School District were given notice on March 5 that their positions may be cut.

Two groups of teachers were informed by district Superintendent Diane Fox directly: those holding positions she does not plan to add on her version of the budget and those who may not be on her version of the budget. The final decision will then lie in the hands of the school board members.

“I gave them a heads-up this is what could be happening,” Fox said of the teachers. “I went and spoke with them personally. I have some positions I don’t think will be on my suggested budget. There are others who may be on the fence.”

Some of the meetings were very emotional, Fox said; there was one in particular in which a group of teachers comforted their colleague who had just been told the news. Fox stressed that she did not give the teachers official notice they would lose their jobs.

The superintendent has been delivering a series of lectures to the school board on the different sections of the budget. At the next board meeting, Wednesday at 6 p.m., the discussion will be about special education. A special school board meeting has been scheduled for Monday, March 24 at 6 p.m.

Fox said she wanted to give the teachers time to deal with the information.

“They deserve the opportunity to digest it and create their own plan to deal with this rockiest of times in the budget,” she said.

Fox, who has dealt with teaching staff reductions at her past job as principal in the Beekmantown school district, said releasing the information to the school board before giving teachers time to prepare is not the way she wanted to handle it.

“I come from a district where I watched years of cuts in staff,” Fox said. “I’ve also had teachers at meetings who found out they’d be reduced. I can’t do it that way.”

Seniority lists were also sent out. A teacher’s seniority and teaching certifications play roles in the decision-making process, Fox said. Teachers with certifications in multiple subjects could be moved to teach other classes.

Don Carlisto, co-president of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, was not prepared to make a statement on behalf of the union, saying it is still too early in the process.

“We’re waiting for a budget proposal before we make a recommendation for what we are thinking the budget should look like,” Carlisto said.

Carlisto said that historically, the board of education and teachers association have been open with each other.

“It’s a testament to the degree we try to partner here,” Carlisto said.

Politics in Albany will also play a factor, determining the total amount of restoration aid the school district receives.

“What the restoration looks like could add some uncertainty to the situation,” Carlisto said.

The school budget is split into three sections: administrative, programs and capital. Assistant Superintendent Dan Bower is tasked with the administrative and capital portions. Fox is overseeing the program portion.

Bower said there have been savings made on his side of the budget, but there is not much else that can be trimmed. That has already been done in last few years, he said, including 40 staff layoffs and the closing of two schools.

Recently the school received a $54,000 check from Verizon after a phone bill study was conducted and found overcharges. The school will continue to save $2,500 a month on the phone bill and also saved on printing costs and software adjustments. However, it became clear to Fox and Bower that these savings weren’t enough.

A decision will likely be made by the school board before spring break begins on April 14.