It’s budget time and schools and communities are, once again, under tremendous pressure. I feel a general overview of the challenges faced this year, along with answers to several of the often asked questions early in the budget process, would help reduce some angst and dispel some of the rumors that are circulating.
As I feared, at both the state and local level, the finger pointing, blame game and overall frustration began at all levels as the governor,
politicians, school administration, boards of educations, parents and community members all point the finger at each other while expressing (rightfully so) their concerns.
Although, we disagree on solutions, we all agree that we want the best possible educational program for our
students. Early in our budget process, I have maintained concerns in the development of next year’s school budget. First, the district cannot sustain its long-term liabilities. Continued increases in fixed costs such as health insurance, coupled with yet another reduction in State aid, threaten our ability to continue to provide a quality education for our students.
Second, none of the problems we face such as health insurance and declining State aid issues can be solved in isolation or for the short-term. We must work together in a collaborative and unparalled fashion to solve not only our immediate funding issues, but the long term implications as well. A strong school district is integral to a strong community, so we’re in this together! Thus, we will depend on all stakeholders to be part of the solution.
Our district began work to address a $600,000 shortfall. That figure was the estimate to offer all programs we offered last year, but at this year’s cost, that would equal a 7-percent increase in our tax levy, which was obviously unacceptable. Currently, several recommendations that account for about half the projected deficit are under consideration, including the reduction and modification of several teaching positions.
As 74 percent of our school budget is human resource costs, it stands to reason that this is one of the first places that need to be examined for cost savings.
This situation should come as no surprise, as the administration and Board of Education continue the work from last year, when the district eliminated 13 positions either through retirement, attrition or reduction in force, and left several positions: originally proposed for reduction, intact. We continue to face the same fiscal challenges as last year and will surely face them again next year as New York
state’s fiscal ineptness and overall dysfunction continues to impact school districts and our students.
So what are our next steps?
Our Board of Education and administration will continue to address this situation during several upcoming Board of Education budget work sessions scheduled for Thursday, March 24 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, March 29 at 6 p.m. During these meetings the public can observe work on the budget, but not provide comments or questions. The questions and comments can be reserved for the regular Board of Education meeting scheduled for April 5 at 7 p.m.
During the work sessions, Administration and the Board of Education will continue to review our program and examine cost-saving recommendations. In the meantime, we will continue to consult with various stakeholder teams such as the Budget Committee, Shared Services Committee, District Leadership Team, as well as faculty and staff to share ideas and strategies.
We are also looking closely at our special education and technology budgets as both are very important to the district and have great impact on future spending. We must find ways to reduce the spending in special education while continuing to invest in technology in order for our students to be competitive in a global economy.
Meetings continue to be held with the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES and
local school districts regarding the topic of shared services. At this point, we have a tentative agreement on several things to share, which should result in substantial savings. Partnerships of this nature are not only important this year but must be groomed and explored for future years.
The district is also negotiating two labor union contracts this year.
Despite all of the continued challenges the Lake Placid CSD faces, we provide a very good education for students. In fact, I believe that with all stakeholders working together we can go against the trend, enhance our program and increase our overall efficiency, offering an excellent/great program and finding “value” (our Board of Education’s number one goal).
However, as I have stated, the district cannot sustain a pattern of continued fiscal stress of the type we currently face. Unless some changes in a good way happens, we will continue to face the potential elimination of positions and programs for both the short and long term with risk continuing to drive up the emotional angst of all stakeholders and ultimately undermine our ability to provide a quality education to our students.
Instead, I urge collaboration and cooperation among all stakeholders in order to provide the type of programs and education that Lake Placid has become known for.