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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2012

VCSD proposes cutting clubs and classes to close budget gap

VOORHEESVILLE — The school district proposes cutting 16 clubs, two sports teams, several maintenance positions, and a multitude of classes, to help close a $500,000 budget gap, but still faces another gap of $41,844 for 2012-13.

“We have two sources of revenue — state aid and taxes,” said Gregory Diefenbach, assistant superintendent for business, at Monday’s school board meeting. “When state aid remains flat and taxes are capped, the equation equals disaster.”

Six cuts would directly affect the classrooms — a fifth year of foreign language, for college credit, would no longer be offered; music classes would be reduced in the high school; some technology and art electives would be cut; family and consumer science class would be eliminated; science and social studies classes would be reduced; and special-education services in the high school would be reduced.

The district enrolls 1,198 students and employs about 230 people; the proposed cuts make up nearly four jobs, divided in pieces.

“Basically, there will be fewer electives, fewer classes offered, and overall fewer options,” said Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder at a school board meeting on Monday.

“These cuts we are facing are just the beginning,” said Timothy Blow, president of the board.

Once the school board adopts a budget proposal, the public has its say on May 15.

The nearly $22 million budget proposal falls within the tax-levy limit set by the new state law, so only a majority vote is needed. But, even with an extra $188,644 in state aid for converting to full-day kindergarten, and after the cuts, the school district has a budget gap of about $40,000.

The added cost of full-day kindergarten, after the transition aid, will be about $75,000 by the fifth year for a full-time teacher with benefits.

In an effort to maintain staffing, the district looked at cutting other services. The district could save $52,336 it pays to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, which Snyder said is essentially the information technology contract.

“We feel we can handle the information technology portion internally at this point in time,” Snyder said.

The district proposes eliminating one bus mechanic, to operate with two mechanics, rather than three; the job cut would save nearly $49,000.

The district is also looking to cut a part-time clerical position, which was originally slated to be cut last year, but was saved as a result of the Federal Education Jobs Fund; that cut would save $13,559. The federal stimulus funds are no longer available.

Freshman basketball is on the chopping block, for a savings of nearly $3,349. Snyder said in past years it has been difficult to find local games for the freshman team, and a lot of travel was required to participate in very few games.

Boys’ volleyball is also up for consideration in the cuts, for a savings of $3,350; Snyder said participation in the sport has been down more than any other.

Club cuts include the school newspaper and literary magazine; the ski club; the art club in all three schools; teen nights; International Club; Yorkers; Future Business Leaders; the history club; Envirothon; Torch; Select Choir; Stage Band; Tech Monday; and a one-third reduction in the Model United Nations.

“All clubs are on contract, and the administrators are paid a stipend,” said Snyder. Cutting the clubs would result in a savings of over $30,000.

When asked about the possibility of having volunteer-run clubs, Snyder said that could be a slippery slope.

“We have to be very careful about volunteers, because there are so many rules now about engaging with students outside of the classroom,” said Snyder.

The school will attempt to incorporate some of the club activities into the classroom. Imran Abbasi, the high school principal, said one of the technology classes would put together Torch, the school yearbook. Aspects of Select Choir and Stage Band would be addressed in music classes.

Tech Monday, a program for teachers, which allows them to learn about technology, could continue, but would be taught by a staff member, rather than an outside, paid administrator.

The student-run publications, including the Heldbarker and the Blackbird Review, may no longer be produced, but Abbasi said the high school English courses would work to allow students to express themselves through writing and make sure “students have a voice.”

The district focused on certain criteria to determine which classes and clubs to cut, and, in many cases, the decision came down to enrollment.

Foreign language level-five classes often had single-digit enrollment, and Abbasi said at least 11 students were needed to sustain the classes.

The clubs faced the same problem — low levels of enrollment, according to Snyder. The district would consider continuing some clubs through fund-raising, she said.

When some audience members expressed concern over the loss of a bus mechanic, wondering what would happen if an emergency occurred, Snyder said the district was exploring shared services with neighboring school districts.

Overall, the proposed cuts would save the school district $584,575.

Snyder reminded people that these cuts are only in the proposal stage, with plenty of time left for public comment.

— By Anne Hayden

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