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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 27, 2011

VCSD ponders cuts

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Having had a $21.7 million budget for the last three years, the district’s preliminary spending plan for the next school year, with a 1.6-percent increase, would hike taxes more than four percent, which is twice as high as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed cap on local taxes.

Sarita Winchell, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, presented a rollover budget on Monday that would maintain the district’s staff — whose salaries and benefits make up three-quarters of the budget.  The preliminary spending plan includes a .93-percent increase in cost for salaries, which is lower than would normally be expected since three employees took advantage of the state’s retirement incentive last year and the positions have been filled with entry-level workers, and a 9.63 percent increase in the cost of employee benefits.

The rollover budget cuts spending on equipment, utilities, contractual expenses, textbooks, and supplies.

If Cuomo’s two-percent tax cap is enacted, the district would have to cut an additional $475,000 from the $22 million preliminary plan, Winchell said on Wednesday.  She consulted with administrators to come up with possible cuts, she said, concluding, “We were aiming for a half million dollars, basically.”

Included in the $507,355 total for the possible reductions is the elimination of one first-grade class — it is the only grade in the elementary school that has five sections, the rest have four — which would save $61,720; reassigning department chairs in the high school, which would save $35,200; replacing a retiring health teacher with a part-time teacher, which would save $71,120; not replacing a retiring teaching assistant in the special education department and eliminating another teaching assistant position for a total savings of $58,570; and eliminating junior varsity golf, which would save $2,200.

Cuomo’s proposal wouldn’t allow property taxes to be raised more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, unless more than 60 percent of the voters favor it.  The current year’s school budget passed with about 60 percent of voters in favor.

“We’ve been cutting for three years here, so the low hanging fruit is kind of gone,” Winchell told a handful of residents at Monday’s meeting, explaining that it is difficult to make further cuts to the budget.

She stressed on Wednesday that the preliminary budget that she presented includes the same amount of state aid as the district received for the current budget and that number will surely go down after the governor introduces his state budget on Feb. 1

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