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Watkins may lose $825K, Penn Yan $1.2M

TRI-COUNTY AREA—Under Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget, schools in the area would lose different amounts of state funding.
Paterson announced the plan, Tuesday, Jan. 19, cutting five percent overall from state aid to schools. For Penn Yan, the cut is $1,257,875. Dundee could lose $318,672, and Hammondsport could lose $196,647.  Watkins Glen would lose $825,542, or 5.64 percent, in state aid for the 2010-11 school year. Odessa-Montour could lose 2.87 percent, or $269,269.  Paterson’s proposed cuts are based on whether schools are in high or low income areas.
Penn Yan Superintendent Ann Orman said if Paterson cut $1.2 million, or 8.17 percent, it would be devastating to the district. She said a large portion of the debt service that needs to be paid off comes into next year’s budget.
Orman explained that if the school’s aid is cut, then the district will have to look at program and staff cuts. She explained that last year a number of staff retired so the district would not have to lay off many people. However, Orman said the district is not panicking yet.
For Dundee, the proposed $318,672, would be a 3.53 percent cut. Melissa Lawson, Dundee business manager, said Dundee’s cut is less than Penn Yan’s partially because property taxes are less. She said Penn Yan has lakefront properties, which Dundee does not have.
For Hammondsport, Paterson proposed a 4.59 percent cut, or $196,647. Superintendent Kyle Bower said for every $70,000 the district loses, that’s one percent more on the tax levy. He added that last year the district offset the tax levy using reserve funds, creating an even bigger gap in revenue and expenses.
Doug Tomandl, assistant superintendent of business for Penn Yan Central School District, explained despite the proposed cuts, there were a few areas Paterson did not propose cutting. For the schools, foundation aid and funds for universal Pre-K were left the same compared to the current school year. Tomandl added Paterson did not recommend decreasing funds to Excell.
Gayle Sedlack, Watkins Glen district treasurer/business manager, gave the numbers to the school board at the Tuesday. Jan. 19 meeting. The governor released his proposed budget earlier that day, including an overall 5 percent cut in state aid to schools.
Sedlack explained the cost of salaries and benefits for Watkins would increase $830,000. She said with the aid decrease, Watkins would experience a $1.6 million gap in expenses and revenue.
“(Paterson) expects us to take care of the budget gap,” said Sedlack. She added the governor expects schools to use reserve funds to cover the cuts in aid.
Superintendent Tom Phillips said the proposed cut for Watkins was 5.64 percent because of the tax rate and number of students getting reduced/free meals. Phillips explained Paterson based his proposal on a wealth ratio formula and what the governor “perceives the threshold for support” is. He explained the current tax rate is $11.21 per thousand, and according to Paterson is a reason to withhold state aid. Paterson also took into consideration the number of students getting free and reduced meals in grades Kindergarten to sixth grade, which currently is 39 for Watkins Glen.
However, Phillips countered that Schuyler County is traditionally one of the poorest counties in New York, usually sharing the bottom two spots with Allegany County.
Phillips called the proposed cut ironic. He said “this is our reward for being fiscally responsible for the last three years.” He added Paterson’s proposal puts more burden on residents.
For Odessa-Montour, the proposed cut is 2.87 percent, or a $269,269 in state aid. Superintendent Jim Frame explained the proposed cut is smaller than Watkins Glen because O-M is a more higher needs district. He said that the cut size is different makes sense. Frame compared how Watkins Glen’s cut was in turn smaller than Horseheads, which has a proposed cut of 9.81 percent.
However, despite the difference, Frame called the 2.87 percent “a significant cut for us.” He said if approved, it would mean an average seven percent increase on the tax levy. That is not taking into account the annual expenditure increases, like salaries and healthcare.
Frame said if passed, the district would have to look at where cuts could be made among programs and personnel. He added that O-M already had a slight decrease in personnel last year.
“I certainly understand the the position and condition the state is in,” Frame added.

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