By Michelle Miller
---- — CHERRY VALLEY
The superintendent of Cherry-Valley Springfield Central School proposed keeping the tax levy below the state’s 2 percent tax cap for the 2013-14 school year.
During his first presentation of the district’s proposed budget, Robert Miller said he would never propose a tax levy at exactly what the threshold allows because that would leave no wiggle room for audit reviews. He proposed a tax levy increase of 2.9 percent. The district has not had a tax levy increase of more than that in the past three years, according to Miller. He said the increases have been 1.9, 1.9 and 2.9 (going back three years in that order). The maximum allowable levy under the cap would be a 3.8 percent increase.
“I think the 2.9 percent increase will be one of the lowest in the area,” Miller told members of the board.
Board member Corey Webster said he did not think the school should be comparing itself with other districts.
“If they want to go ahead and run things into the ground that is their business,” he said. “I think what we need to try to do is make it so we do not run our school into the ground.”
According to Miller, the board should not only be thinking about the short term.
“The choices that you make early now are going to impact five years from now,” he said. “I get what you are saying, but the lower we keep it now, the more in danger we are of having to override the levy limit in the future.”
Webster recommended seeing a budget that would reflect a tax levy increase lower than 2 percent.
“I know state money will not be there forever. I know we would like to pretend it will be,” he said.
Miller agreed to draw up a few other proposals for the board to look over during its next meeting in March.
“If you want to go to 1.9 (percent) we can, but that $40,000 (in carryover) will be lost forever,” Miller said. “I can figure out how to get through this year and next year probably, but this is not about the next two years. It is about five years from now. It is about where will we be if we give up too much revenue … We will not get another shot at getting that revenue back.”
Webster said he still believes programming needs to be looked at, especially with the continuous trend of declining enrollment at the district. He said he anticipates that economic hardships are only going to get much worse before they get better.
“I realize we need to create programs for the future, but it seems like we are going over and above,” he said.
The proposed budget included the anticipation of adding a second section of pre-K. Miller said he is projecting 22 to 32 district students for the program and suggested opening it up to out-of-district students for a $5,000 tuition fee. He estimates that the pre-K could get anywhere between six and 10 out-of-district students, based on interest received in the past.
The board does not have to commit to anything until May, according to Miller. He said CV-S can hire a teacher under the condition that it might not happen. There will be time to look at the numbers and have more discussion about it, he added.
Miller said he has made cuts. For example, he said the district has gone from 53 teachers to 44 in the last four years.
Items under consideration, according to Miller’s presentation include whether to replace a special education position (a $70,000 cost), adding a technology position (a $45,000 expense), adding the second section of pre-K (which shows a $40,000 cost but also $40,000 in expected revenues), adding one teacher assistant position (a $35,000 cost) and adding one teacher aid position (a $25,000) cost.
The district plans to shift one full-time employee to administration and make a shift in special education service (a $50,000 savings).
Major increases to the proposed spending plan include health insurance premiums, retirement and salaries — totaling more than $300,000.
The two primary proposed cuts are the reduction of French to a .5 full-time position as the district slowly reduces to Spanish as the sole foreign language and the reduction of one science position to a .5 full-time employee. CV-S is also planning to cut 1.5 clerical positions as an account clerk and keyboard specialist retire. They will be replaced with a part-time position.
According to Miller, CV-S is seeking to further reduce costs by working collaboratively with other district and BOCES in both instruction and instructional support. He said he anticipates using $20,000 less in fuel and foresees saving more than $30,000 on energy expenses.
As of the presentation last Thursday, CV-S should get close to $6,900 in state aid. Miller’s proposed budget leaves a budget gap of $79,000. He proposed possibly making more energy and staffing cuts along with transferring money.
Board member Hilary Lusk suggested looking more into enrollment and class sizes. Perhaps the district needs to consider going to one-section classes, she said.
Board President Frank McGrath said the school is in an in-between stage.
“Realistically we are at 1.5 sections in most cases and that does not leave a whole lot of flexibility,” he said.
Miller said he still considers the district a two-section school.
“I am aware we are headed toward being a one-section school. I’m just not there yet,” he said.
He also explained that the school will lose talented teachers if they start chopping positions in half.
“We could look into sharing staff with other school districts, but who want to travel from one school to another if they do not have to. If teachers have an option of working at one school all day, of course they will chose to do that,” Miller said.
According to projections provided by Miller, student enrollment at the elementary level looks like it will remain pretty steady with the exception of third grade with an anticipated loss of 11 students. At the secondary level, Miller predicts a drop of about 10 students.