Tupper school budget would raise taxes 1%

TUPPER LAKE – The Tupper Lake Central School District school board approved a budget that would raise taxes 1 percent, and now it goes up for a public vote.

The public will also vote on two new school buses, and two uncontested school board candidates for three-year terms. Wayne Davison and Jason Rolley will replace Paul Ellis and Vice President Mark Yamrick, who have decided not to run for re-election.

After Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Seth McGowan was quick to point out that spending in the budget is down by 0.83 percent, a $141,489 reduction from the current school year.

The district is also receiving an additional $274,954 in state aid for its next budget, raising its state aid to almost $7.6 million.

The proposed budget is pretty much right at the tax cap, which allows the Tupper Lake district a 1.06 percent tax levy increase. The tax levy increase is $80,428. District Business Manager Garry Lanthier said that would amount to about a $14 increase on a home assessed at $100,000.

“I think it’s important to note that, because we’re staying under the cap, people will get a rebate check from the state for whatever the tax rate is,” Lanthier said. This year, the state will rebate property tax increases for residents of municipalities that meet the state’s tax cap.

Some of the savings in the budget come by eliminating positions through attrition. The number of art teachers in the district would go from three to two, and the number of librarians would drop from two to one. A teaching assistant would also be turned into a teacher’s aide when that person retires.

An attendance position at the middle/high school would not be replaced when the current employee retires in December. Other office staff members would pick up her duties, McGowan said.

One of two pre-kindergarten aide positions would be reassigned to another area of the building. To compensate, a lottery system would be implemented to determine which kids go to morning or afternoon sessions.

The board members also discussed, at a previous meeting, paring down athletics by eliminating non-league games from the schedule. They also talked about reconvening the Athletic Advisory Committee to look at what sports and what levels of sports are offered by the district.

No athletics changes were included in the budget, but McGowan has said they would allow the district to rebuild its fund balance and improve its financial health.

“We’ve had less staff than we’ve ever had,” McGowan said. “From a financial health standpoint, moving into the 2014-15 school year, it’s going to be tight again.”

Bus proposal

Along with the budget vote, taxpayers will also vote on a proposal to borrow money to buy two new, 66-passenger school buses for $234,314. The buses would replace two 7-year-old school buses, which could be sold for about $17,000 each. That money would go directly toward the new buses.

The district has 16 buses in its fleet and has historically replaced two used buses with two new buses every year. That cycle was interrupted last year when it failed to get voter support.

“The replacement plan is to replace two buses every year, which would mean the average bus age would be seven to eight years old,” Lanthier said. “By doing this cycling, we’re actually spending less money.”

If approved, the new buses would be paid for with a serial bond. The proposed budget includes $7,000 for the interest on that bond, with the remaining payments spread out over the next five years. The district would also receive 65 percent in state reimbursement on the cost of the buses during that time.

Lanthier said the new buses would be safer and would also save taxpayer money on maintenance and repairs. He said the district has already spent about $12,000, not including labor, in repairs to the two old buses, and one is up for inspection in May.

“Those buses get inspected twice a year,” Lanthier said. “Any time these buses fail, the inspector takes them out of service. We can get it fixed but we still have to wait until the next inspection to get them on the road again.”

Lanthier said repairs were made on a bus that rear-ended another vehicle earlier this year, but it’s still off the road awaiting inspection.

“If there’s ever a school emergency and we need to evacuate, we need to have enough buses to get the students out safely,” Lanthier said. “That’s a major concern when we’re down buses.”

Art teacher

Aggie Pelletieri, co-president of Tupper Lake United Teachers union and an art teacher with the school district, attended Monday’s school board meeting and urged the board members to fill the art teacher position as soon as possible.

Pelletieri told board members that art teachers are essential, especially since Common Core standards have placed an emphasis on teamwork between students in the classroom. She said art also brings every discipline together.

“We need to replace that person who’s retiring as soon as it’s feasible in the budget,” Pelletieri said. “Art always has been cross-curriculum, and it plays an important role in the science, the math and the history lessons. I contact their teachers regularly to see how I can fit art into their lessons.”

When students were learning about rain forests in science class, Pelletieri said she had them look up pictures of rain forest animals and draw them. Earlier this year, students wrote a book in library class and illustrated it in art class. Math comes into play when the students do projects that involve things like patterns and facial features.

Now those applications will be harder to implement because Pelletieri will have to travel between the two schools to fill the void.

“In real life, we all have to do a little math, a little history and a little science, all of the time,” Pelletieri said. “I like to tease. All you have to do is teach art, and you’d have well-rounded students.”