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Penn Yan school saves one position

    PENN YAN—As a result of extra state funding, the Penn Yan Central School District will be able to reinstate one full-time equivalent staff position which originally was expected to be cut for the 2012-13 school year.  According to Superintendent David Hamilton, the district found out additional aid of around $60,000 would be coming in as next year’s budget was being finalized.  
    Initially, PYCSD was looking at a financial plan of $31,632,500.  The budget approved by the school board during the special meeting on Wednesday, April 18 amounts to $31,692,499.  District taxpayers will get to vote on whether or not to finalize that spending plan on Tuesday, May 15 (the same date as school board elections).  Before voting, a public hearing will be held to give residents a chance to comment on the budget on Wednesday, May 2 at 7 p.m.
    Voting to adopt the budget had originally been set for the April 4 regular meeting.  However, the board decided to table that vote upon hearing concerns from members of the public regarding reductions in faculty and programs.
    PYCSD had been planning to eliminate 18.4 positions for next year.  Hamilton said that number has now dropped to 17.4.  While these extra finances are a source of revenue, they also have to be included in expenditures if the money is allocated towards staffing needs.  Therefore, it will have no influence on the tax levy increase.    
    Prior to voting, Hamilton touched on the issue of having to cut back on staff.  “I know this is a difficult budget year and staff reductions are tough,” he stated.  Hamilton discussed how eliminating faculty was the final part of closing what was a $3.3 million financial deficit when the budget process began last December.  The superintendent explained the first course of action to lessen the gap was getting rid of non-staff cuts such as equipment fees and school supplies.  The next step was implying a tax levy increase of two percent to the spending plan.  After that, Hamilton pointed out the only sustainable way to erase the remaining deficit was trimming the number of staff.  “It was our last step,” he indicated.
    Hamilton also went into detail regarding some of the major revenue increases that led to making tough choices like faculty lay-offs.  He noted the costs of health insurance, negotiated salary, and retirement systems rose by around $1.2 million.  On top of that, state aid had been frozen for four years until Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to allocate an additional $805 million towards education in the 2012-13 state budget.  “We’re facing tough financial times,” spoke Hamilton.  “This is not news to anyone here.”  
    Another issue which Hamilton discussed was the tax levy increase.  Although suggestions had been brought up at previous meetings of further increasing the levy to prevent staff and program cuts, the 2012-13 budget will still include a raise of two percent.  The superintendent expressed opposition to going above two percent due to potential added financial strain on residents.  “I know increases in the levy are tough on our taxpayers,” he said.  Under the “two percent tax cap” which the state put in effect this year, the highest possible amount the levy could have been increased in the district was 14.2 percent.  
    The school board also let audience members give input on the upcoming spending plan before it was adopted.  Bill Burg, who said he is a lifetime resident of Penn Yan, expressed approval of the tax levy increase staying at two percent.  In terms of eliminating staff cuts, he noted such decisions are not easy though it is an inevitable part of approaching a budget process in a tight economy.  Burg also mentioned with enrollment continuing to decline in PYCSD, the amount of staff should be reduced to balance out more with the number of students.  
    One matter Hamilton clarified was misconceptions he had heard about programs being eliminated.  An example of a misunderstanding he brought up was health and athletic classes being reduced.  Hamilton explained physical education classes at the elementary level were being increased to meet state mandates and that it would be maintained at all other grade levels.  Non-mandatory health classes would be reduced to free up students’ schedules for electives and help with other courses.


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