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Penn Yan residents question staff cuts

    PENN YAN—With voting around the corner, Penn Yan Central School District residents were given an opportunity to hear a final review and offer insight on the proposed budget for 2012-13.  During the Wednesday, May 2 meeting, a public hearing was held regarding the tentative spending plan.
    District tax payers will vote on whether or not to enact that budget on Tuesday, May 15 (same date as school board elections).  Voting will take place at the middle school from noon to 8 p.m.   The tax levy was increased by two percent to help cover expenses.
    Superintendent David Hamilton and Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Rodger Lewis spoke about the budget for 2012-13.  Hamilton addressed the issue of cutting staff.  “We are all facing tough financial times now,” he stated.  Initially, 18.4 full-time equivalent positions in PYCSD were expected to be eliminated.  However, as the budget was being finalized last month, it was determined the district would receive around $60,000 in additional state aid for the coming school year.  The extra funding means the number of faculty positions being cut will drop to 17.4.
    The superintendent explained eliminating faculty was the last step taken to cover what was a $3.3 million shortfall for revenue and expenses when the budget process began last December.  He pointed out there were increased costs in areas such as employee benefits which the district has no control over.  
    The tentative budget is $31,692,499.  Compared with the current school year, the increase in total spending is 1.22 percent ($386,860).  Lewis discussed some of the factors which led to the financial hike.  The area with the biggest cost increase, he explained, was employee benefits.  “Our benefit line increased substantially,” said Lewis.  For 2011-12, costs in that category equal $6,128,849.  That amount will rise to $7,143,456 (14.2 percent increase) for next year.  Lewis noted this substantial increase occurred due to the skyrocketing costs of health insurance, teachers’ compensation, and retirement.  
    According to Lewis, an area of revenue where the district will face a significant loss is Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS).  PYCSD will see a drop from $600,000 to $435,162 (27 percent decrease) in PILOTS received for 2012-13.  Lewis remarked the biggest source for PILOT payments which the district relied on was the AES-owned Greenidge coal-fired plant in Dresden.  After closing down the plant and filing for bankruptcy, AES will be cutting down on those payments.  Lewis also claimed $627,796 will be taken out of the employees’ retirement system reserve to cover some of the added retirement costs.  He did note that money can only apply to district faculty who are not teachers.  
    Several of the 12 audience members offered comments on next year’s tentative budget.  Steve Ketchum mentioned a good idea would be for the district to have a walk-through so residents could get a better understanding of the programs which are in place.      
    Carolyn Schaeffer expressed disdain about staff reductions.  She touched on how she felt it was sad that students may have less educational opportunities.  “I think it’s sort of appalling,” Schaeffer explained.  “I just think it’s sad for us, especially for the children and the teachers that get cut.” 


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