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State budget is 'smoke and mirrors'

SCHUYLER COUNTY—Schools finally have the budget information from the state they need to complete their own budgets. Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen school districts will be getting the same amount of funds as last year, and for the next two years as well.
Tom Phillips, superintendent of Watkins Glen, explained the state is actually giving the schools less money than last year, but using the federal stimulus funds to make it even. He described it as “smoke and mirrors.”
“The good news is that it will close a $552,000 budget gap by withholding state aid,” he said.
Jim Frame, superintendent of Odessa-Montour, said the school still needs to know how the federal funds can be spent. He said, “I’m not sure what it means yet.” Frame said when he knows more about the funds they will be getting he will take it to the school board.
At the April 6 Watkins Glen School Board meeting, the board passed the school’s $23,342,902 budget. According to Phillips, the tax levy will increase .75 percent, a $55,000 increase over the 2008/2009 school year.
Phillips said the average tax rate will be $11.25, a $3.48 decrease over the current school year. He explained it is due in part because of the county’s reassessments of Dix and Reading. Phillips also said the federal stimulus funds helped offset the tax rate.
Congressman Eric Massa’s office announced in early March, New York schools would be getting the federal funds. After part of the state budget was passed, the funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were confirmed again. Phillips said Watkins Glen will be getting $53,766 in Title 1-A funding and $183,753 in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)/Special Education funding. According to Massa’s office, Odessa-Montour will be getting $109,913 in Title 1-A funding and $227,000 in IDEA funding.
Phillips added the funds the school will be getting means the district will be able to hold off eliminating eight to 11 positions. He said this also means class sizes will be able to be kept at good sizes.
However, Phillips said they will need to cut back in transportation. He said people need to understand the result of such cutbacks is less bus stops and children having to walk farther.
“It’s tragic to even have it on the table, but where else are we going to cut?” said Phillips.
He also said the situation next year will not be any better. Phillips said having the budget for next year frozen at the same amount is “very dangerous.” Frame added the next two to three years will be difficult.

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