School board to decide on 20-plus job cuts

SARANAC LAKE – School district Superintendent Diane Fox presented a budget to the school board on Monday that included cutting more than 20 teaching staff positions for the school district.

The school district faces a $1 million budget shortfall which will most likely be remedied with teaching staff reductions. School board members will make a final decision on the budget over a two-week period. Meetings are set for April 2 and 9.

Fox said the budget represented a “shared sacrifice.” She expected classroom sizes to not exceed 25 students per teacher.

“There’s nothing left to cut from those other areas (of the budget),” Fox said. “We are losing some of our school families this year.”

There are eight full-time teaching positions and 17 teaching assistant positions left out of the superintendent’s budget: two kindergarten through fifth grade teachers, one Elementary certified teacher at the middle school, one business teacher at the high school, one technology teacher at the high school, one social studies teacher at the middle school, one foreign language teacher and one physical education teacher.

Fox’s list also includes one library aide, English and math coaches at the elementary schools and 17 teaching assistants which she recommended to be cut throughout the school district. There are 42 teaching assistant positions for the entire school district. A music teacher who Fox said met with students one day per week is also on the list.

Natalie Pond, one of the teachers whose position was recommended to be cut, asked the school board to save her job.

“I hope we can find other ways to make budgetary cuts,” Pond said.

Pond teaches financial math, financial accounting and business law at the high school.

“The students I teach are seniors,” she said. “I see cutting these electives as having a very detrimental effect on their senior year.”

Bill Clucky, a math teacher, also spoke in Pond’s favor.

“I’d like to support Natalie,” Clucky said. “They’re valuable real-life courses that are not available elsewhere. It does serve a purpose for those students. She’s a wonderful teacher and does a wonderful job.”

Sports programs remained intact in Fox’s proposal, including the ice hockey team, which she said is the most expensive of all sports programs at the school.

“Hockey is the most expensive, yet it’s one (of the sports programs) Saranac Lake is well known for,” Fox said. “Athletics are important to the school.”

“The role of the school is to educate,” an audience member at the crowded meeting said.

Fox responded that athletics, too, are an important part of the school and community.

Wellness classes may or may not be cut.

“I put wellness (classes) on there, but I won’t promise you we’ll do it,” Fox said.

Retirements

There are a total of five retirements this year, and only one of those positions will be rehired, Fox said. This will save the school district $268,340.

Other costs

Assistant Superintendent Dan Bower said that over the years certain projects have been put on hold by past school district in order to pass budgets, but that these projects now need to be fixed.

Repairs to the stairs at Petrova Elementary School and to the high school track are estimated to cost the school district $120,000.

“The school track needs to be resurfaced or it is in danger of needing to be replaced,” Bower said.

Other needed equipment includes a $30,000 van for transporting students and $40,000 for an architect to plan future building upgrades for the school’s electrical and fire alarm systems, Bower said.

School board to consider tax cap

When asked by the Enterprise, many of the school board members said they still have not made up their minds on whether or not to keep the budget below the state’s tax cap.

Fox’s proposal would stay within the tax cap, raising the property tax levy by 1.8 percent. A majority of the community members and teachers at the meeting clapped in support of surpassing the tax cap when the subject was raised by a member of the public.

Bower said history has shown it’s hard for a school district to do that. A vote of 60 percent of Saranac Lake’s registered voters is needed to raise property taxes above the cap.

School board President Debra Lennon said she was still considering Fox’s proposal after the meeting.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I see where the information was presented and collected,” Lennon said. “It’s not just a shot in the dark.”

She said there was no consensus made from the board about going above the tax cap.

“That’s a huge consideration to put an increase on someone’s tax bill,” she said. “You can’t throw that number out there without knowing what the costs are for the taxpayer. Everyone has a different financial burden.”