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May 15, 2014

Thoughts on the upcoming votes

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — Next week, on Tuesday, May 20 voters in the Cooperstown Central School District will head to the polls to vote on three important issues, the CCS 2014-2015 budget, the election of members of the school board and a resolution for changing the funding of the two pubic libraries located within the school district, namely the Village of Cooperstown Library and the Kinney Memorial Library in Hartwick.

As usual we have taken the time to go through the school budget which has frankly left us pondering several issues. Each year it seems that funding schools in general is becoming more difficult. And Cooperstown would not seem to be an exception. The proposed 2014-2015 budget is $17,755,706, up 2.88 percent from the 2013-2014 budget even though it appears that enrollment is still in decline. The tax levy, the amount that property owners have to pay, is $11,139,043, up 1.71 percent from last year. State aid is up this year 1.16 percent to $5,131,263. But, in order to balance the proposed budget, the amount to be transferred from the school's appropriated fund balance is up 27.82 percent to the almost unbelievable amount of $930,000.

And while it is a good thing that the transfer of such funds is possible for the 2014-2015 budget as it does allow the rather modest increase in the tax levy, there is no guarantee that such funding will be available in the future. Nor would there seem to be any assurances that state aid will increase to any great degree in the future which would make balancing school budgets down the road all that much more difficult.

Added to this is the fact that, from what we see in the budget, there is a decrease in spending for teacher salaries, 2.61 percent less for K to 6 teachers and 3.29 percent for 7 to 12 teachers. We tend to think that such decreases would indicate some sort of a decrease in the size of the faculty, who, we hasten to point out, are the people so directly involved with educating our students. And we do find it interesting $100,717 is being cut from the budget category of "Teaching: regular school" for grades K-12. Yet in the school newsletter we received we found that under the category of "Instruction/Teaching" only $45,271 is being cut. Does this mean that the classroom teachers are taking a bigger hit than other faculty members?

We also learned from that budget that there is a 23.39 percent decrease in funds allocated for textbooks. Yet we could not find any mention of this in the newsletter. We hope that the drop in funds for textbooks is a result of recent textbook purchases which would decrease the need for new ones in the upcoming budget.

And while some items in the budget are down, we did note in the budget that salaries are up for both administration and support staff. Additionally the cost for interscholastic athletics is up 7.28 percent and employee benefits have risen 8.96 percent, led by a 12.04 percent increase in health insurance premiums. And when it is all added up, the budget increases almost another half million dollars at the same time enrollment is predicted to decease another 2 percent in the upcoming school year. It does give one pause.

The second issue upon which CCS voters must decide concerns the two seats which are up this year on the school board. Both incumbents, Theresa Russo and Jean Schifano, are running as are new comers, Tim Hayes and David Petri. Thus, voters will have to make a decision not only on the budget but also on who they would like to see serve on the school board going forward.

And while voting on the school budget and candidates for the school board is an annual event, the third issue on the ballot this year is completely new. Voters are being asked to make a decision on whether or not to pass a resolution, based on education law 259, for a new funding source for the two public libraries which are chartered to serve areas existing primarily within the CCS district. This funding would be paid by a new property tax on property owners in the school district. These two libraries, namely the Village of Cooperstown Library and the Kinney Memorial Library, would continue to be administered by the current library boards.

Traditionally the Village of Cooperstown Library has been funded in large part by property owners within the village while the town of Otsego, the town of Middlefield and CCS have contributed about 14 percent of the cost of running the library. The town of Hartwick basically funds the Kinney Memorial Library. By passing the proposed resolution, funding for the two libraries would be more evenly spread out among the library users and annual funding would not be at the mercy of village and town boards who might be forced to decide to cut library funding in order to balance budgets in the future. The annual funding of the libraries would be voted upon by CCS district residents and would be covered, we believe, by the property tax cap in place for both schools and the municipalities in New York state.

Granted, it would be a new property tax for property owners in the school district. And we are rather disinclined to think that the village and the towns would lower their budgets by the amount saved by a new funding stream for the libraries. But we would hope that the village and towns would be able to use the amount presently spent on the libraries for other needs. We would suggest that in the village potholes might well come to mind.

The vote on all three of these issues will be, as we pointed earlier, held on Tuesday, May 20 in Room 304-305 of the school located on Linden Avenue in Cooperstown. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. We would encourage everyone to get out and vote in this election.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 607-547-8124 or by e-mail at cellsworth1@stny.rr.com