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School budgets: a very tough challenge

STEBEN COUNTY—Many school districts are wrestling with Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposals.  With cuts in aid, schools are preparing their budgets for less or no money compared to last year.  Listed below is how the area school districts are handling the cuts.

From Education Funding, the Hammondsport School District will get $80,000 in Title 1-A Funding and $170,000 inIDEA/Special Education Funding.  Steuben County will get $18,000,000 in FMAP Funding for the schools.
Kyle Bower, superintendent of the Hammondsport School District, said he was not sure when they would get the funds though.  Another concern is how they will be able to spend the money.
“We didn’t decrease special education, reading or math,” he said.  Yet that is the type of funding they will get from the Education Funding portion of the money.
Bower said the stimulus money would be welcome of course, but the funds will not make up an area where they had to cut back.

The proposed $18 million capital project for the Dundee Central School District that voters will decide on March 31 will in no way impact the 2009-10 budget. Superintendent of Schools Nancy Zimar reemphasized that fact during a conversation about the budget for the upcoming year.
Work on that  budget has been ongoing for weeks and  Zimar spoke about the 2009-10 budget after the March 11 meeting of the district’s board of education. Currently the proposed tax levy is about 4.5 percent and reductions are still being studied. Zimar said, “We are looking at cuts in positions and programs.”
Already out of the budget is equipment with the exception of the proposed purchase of one bus rather than two. Also included is no increase in supplies, reduction of Staff Development as well as reduction of a labor relations contract with another BOCES.
Staff changes are also in the budget. Already removed are two elementary, one math and one Social Studies teaching positions. Athletic Director and Section V changes have already been included and the district is looking at reducing the work year for some clerical staff. A librarian will be shared and a Social Worker and part time teacher’s aide position will be eliminated. Administrative restructuring will be done next year.
There was some good news. After discussion with the board of education, it was agreed to keep field trips as well as summer school.  Overtime for maintenance and custodial staff will be kept in the budget. Balancing that, the district will not fill one custodial position.  The budget process continues, Zimar, like all school administrators in New York State, does not have any firm information about state aid or the possibility of federal stimulus dollars. She said, “This is pretty much a flat budget. We’re trying to keep the tax levy at 4 percent or lower. At this point it’s almost even with this year’s budget at $3.6 million.”
March 16, Zimar was contacted regarding a press release from Congressman Eric Massa which stated the first round of confirmed recovery funding for Education and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Massa’s office provided a total of funding that is expected for Yates County. FMAP funding was $920,000.  In Education Funding Dundee will get $240,000 in Title 1-A Funding and $330,000 in IDEA/Special Education Funding.
Zimar said, “I don’t know all the strings and regulations connected with the additional Title I funds and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).” In the second phase, which is part of the Federal Stimulus package “Stabilization” dollars, Paterson will determine how much money will go to schools. Zimar said, “Dollars lost to deficit reduction could possibly be reinstated.” She emphasized that this was speculation and that nothing has been confirmed to date.

Penn Yan Central School District Interim Superintendent for Business Rodger Lewis outlined changes to the proposed budget during the March 11 meeting of the board of education. He spoke about the budget following the meeting. Some additional cuts to the 2009-10 budget were made after the March 5 meeting of the board. Lewis said there is some moving around in staff and there will be one less administrative position. One of the many issues that are affecting the budget for next year is debt service on more than $2 million in costs of capital projects.
In total, $265,000 in additional cuts were made prior to the meeting last week and nearly $300,000 in new cuts will be reviewed at the board meeting March 25. Lewis noted, “From a budget standpoint, it’s a tough process. It’s starting to hurt. Everybody is scrambling and the uncertainty is very unsettling. Once we get to the middle or end of April we have to decide on what people will vote on in May.”  By law, school budgets must be finalized before the end of April. Lewis said he keeps hearing we will get news by the end of this month. He said the loss of $900,000 in state aid and increased expenditures that are out of the district’s control are making the process more difficult. Lewis said, “Here it’s upsetting. It’s like a real family. Ann Orman has done a wonderful job of working with people. This should look a lot better come next Wednesday.”
Superintendent of Schools in the Penn Yan district, Orman was contacted  March 16 regarding the announcement from Massa regarding the funding Yates County will receive through FMAP and Education Funding. The announced amounts for Penn Yan are $290,000 in Title 1-A Funding and $630,000 in IDEA/Special Education Funding.
Although Orman has not received any official notification of the funding, she said, “Right now any money would be helpful. We did our budget without these other revenues and made a lot of cuts.” Any additional money would be used to lower the tax levy and put in reserve funds. Orman said, “It’s hard to know how much and when money would be received. We’re grateful the Congress is trying to get more money to school districts.”  

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