ECS district eyes more cuts; board and community to face tough decisions
“I’m running out of places to cut,” said Eldred Central School (ECS) District Superintendent Robert Dufour during a presentation about the 2012-13 district budget.
Dufour and school business administrator William Thornton recently went over all BOCES expenses and the entire contingency budget to look for line items they felt could be cut that wouldn’t impact instruction or cause any reductions in staff. “The key thing to remember is that 75% to 80% of our expenses are salaries and benefits,” Dufour said. “The other is what I’m playing with here, and it’s really not a lot to play with.”
Dufour detailed strategies for reducing the budget, including one in which the school fitness center is now being run by volunteers at a savings of approximately $20,000 per year.
Another applies to grants, which have always been used to supplement programs, with staff members being factored into the general fund and general budget. That practice will be changing. “We are going to move the employees into the grants and use the grants to fund those positions as opposed to supporting the program with program materials,” he said.
The grant money fluctuates from year to year and is based on varying factors. “The positions would be tied to that grant,” explained Dufour. If the grant funding is reduced, positions would need to be eliminated. “In order to make the cuts we need to, we don’t have a choice this year,” he added. “As things improve, we can reverse this in the future, but we’re forecasting three to five very lean years, so we need to use every available dollar to support the staff that supports the program.”
Another $120,000 has been added to the projected cuts detailed at last month’s meeting. “We’re up to $867,610,” said Dufour. “This is a long way from the $1.5 million that I feel we need to cut in order to show the community that we’re doing our due diligence and making every conceivable effort to reduce our operating expenses while not impacting our program.”
Dufour and Thornton will continue looking for potential solutions. “We will be tapping our reserves this year, which will permit us to reduce our overall budget by another couple hundred thousand dollars,” said Dufour. “Bill and I will be providing the board with a number that we feel we can start building the budget from. I’d like to get it at $15 million, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible. Probably more like $15.5 mil. Then we build the budget once the board has given us a general consensus that’s the direction they want us to go.
“Because of the $2 million we returned on the levy, even if I put up a $15 million budget, that will exceed the 2% property tax cap. Under the way the tax cap legislation works, if our budget gets voted down, because we will need 60% of those voting to pass the budget, we have an opportunity to put it up one more time. We can put it up at the same [amounts], or differently. If we put it up at the same, it will still require the 60% to pass.”
“How are you going to make the decisions?” asked ECS board member Carol Bliefernich.
Dufour responded that the first goal is to have a teacher in every classroom. “We may not have support staff. That could mean a reduction in teaching assistants,” said Dufour. “We will have to ultimately look at everything—sports, extracurricular, driver’s education, our music program. I’m hoping by making these cuts we can convince the community that we’re doing the right thing; we are proper stewards of their money and we can get the support we need to pass the budget.”
Larry Thomas, BOCES district superintendent, spoke following Dufour’s presentation. “The message you’re getting is very accurate,” he said. “You’re wise as a board to try to think of some of these strategies now. We’re going to be facing some cuts at BOCES as well. We cut 17 positions last year.”
“Right now, our focus is to cut our expenses to the bone, to the absolute level that we can just exist and get by,” concluded Dufour. “In order to operate our program that our children are benefiting from, we need to keep the staff that we have in place. But there’s going to be hardship.”
Dufour invited the public to call or email with suggestions or questions at 845/456-1100, ext. 5296, or or email email@example.com. The budget will continue to be discussed at upcoming board meetings; the next is scheduled for November 10 at 7:30 p.m. at George Ross Mackenzie Elementary School in Glen Spey.