The Cooperstown Board of Education held a special. "We Have Your Ear’’ meeting in order to explain cuts in the 2010- 11 proposed budget before adopting it during last week’s regular meeting.
School officials made some last-minute changes to the district’s spending plan because they did not believe a 7.2 percent tax levy increase would be a realistic figure to put on taxpayer’s shoulders in today’s economic climate.
Changes made will bring the proposed budget total to $15,965,502, a decrease of 3.5 percent over the current year’s spending plan. This will generate a proposed average tax levy increase of 5.8 percent
The goals, according to school officials, have been to maintain the strongest academic program, address declining enrollment and demonstrating an awareness of the district’s fiscal constraints.
Instead of going over every little detail of the ``lengthy’’ list of proposed changes, four topics were discussed: the reductions of an elementary position, in foreign language staff, in the technology education staff and in vocal music.
According to Superintendent Mary Jo McPhail, these are the four topics that have garnered the most discussion and will most likely have the greatest impact on students.
Elementary Principal Teresa Gorman said the elimination of an elementary position will result in having 21 classroom sections with an average class size of 19 students. She said the smallest class will consist of 19 students and the largest class will have 22 students. Gorman confirmed that the fifth grade class will have the largest number of students.
Secondary Principal Michael Cring said the district is looking at a half-time reduction in the foreign language department. He said it looks like the district will be able to offer the same type of instruction with an exception of a few changes.
According to Cring, the goal is to be able to continue a full offering of the French, Latin and Spanish sequences. ``Instruction will remain the same in the elementary school,’’ said Cring. ``What will be different is the Spanish II courses will be much larger.’’
In the past, counselors have been able to schedule based on student choice; however, Cring said that will be less likely next year. He said forced scheduling could potentially occur.
For example, he said if the district has a class of 100 students and 70 of them all want to take Spanish and if the district is only able to offer one or two sections of the course some students may not be able to get into the class and may be forced to take one of the other languages. Cring said students can opt out and begin taking foreign language as a ninth grader; however, he said students would not be able to get the full sequence. He said students generally begin taking a language in the eighth grade.
``I personally believe it is a much better option than removing the French program and letting go of French I,’’ said Cring. ``Students would have only had two choices, Latin or Spanish. This way they still have three choices, but it may mean they do not get their top choice.’’
The district plans to reduce its technology program in half. According to Cring, four of the most popular courses of instruction will still be offered, which include basic electronics and audio electronics (two 20-week courses), principals in engineering (a full-year course that can be used as a thirdyear math) and design and drawing for production. Cring said courses will be offered in the morning during the first three periods.
Cring said the district has made quite a few changes to the music department. He said the seventh and eight grade choirs will be combined. Cring said tryouts will be held, so not all students will be guaranteed a chance to participate.
According to Cring, the history of jazz class and the women’s choir will no longer be offered. Cring said there are about 30 members in the women’s choir, which will be combined with high school choir. Tryouts will be held for students in grades 9-12 to see who will get one of the 75 spots in the group.
CCS plans to reinstate JV field hockey. According to McPhail, the district looked at cutting the team early on in the planning stages because it did not look like there would be enough students to participate, but that was proven untrue.
BOE President Tony Scalici said the expense of keeping the team ($5,000) is minimal and because members of the team are bused with other teams, there are no additional transportation costs.
The district is proposing to continue its summer driver’s education as a cost-neutral program. According to McPhail, the expense of the program will be offset with a $225 participation fees and with money donated by the High School Student Council and SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) program and a donation given by one of the instructors.
To see a full list of changes visit the district’s website, cooperstowncs.org.
Cooperstown Resident Dan Naughton said he relies on social security and disability checks in order to survive.
He said the $820 he receives each month has not increased in years, but the cost of living increases greatly every year.
``It’s killing people like myself,’’ he said. Naughton said other neighboring school districts have been able to reduce their spending plans_ using the examples of Milford Central School, which is proposing a .35 percent increase in the tax levy and Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School, which is looking at a 2.9 percent tax levy increase.
Naughton said he realizes the district is doing its best to do what it can, but asked if there is any way there could be any concessions made for people like himself.
``This is the reason (tax increases) Cooperstown School has lost 342 students,’’ said Naughton. ``My granddaughter was supposed to start this school this year and the way the taxes are going I strongly doubt I will be around to see her go through this school.’’
Scalici said the district has looked at other district’s spending plans and said one of the real district-to-district inequities are the aid ratios.
He said there can be a difference of 80 to 70 percent of state aid compared to CCS’s 48 percent. He said CCS also got hit with the states’ reconfiguring formula used to determine how much state aid will be given to each district. According to Scalici, Cooperstown is considered a ``more wealthy district,’’ and was given less money because of that.
Members of the public asked if members of the board or administration have looked into getting private support.
Scalici said the district cannot put something in a budget with an expectation or an attempt to find outside money. However, he said the topic was talked about. McPhail said the district does look for outside money in order to fund particular programs and initiatives and have been successful in doing so.
Naughton said he had overheard teachers say they would forgo raises in order to keep current positions and wondered if it could be put up to a vote for the teachers.
McPhail said the board is in contact with all of its contractual units, which includes the teachers unit, the service unit and the administrative unit. She said when the board is in the process of negotiation with its constituencies everything discussed must stay confidential until anagreement is made.
``The board has very clear goals as do the members of the units,’’ said McPhail.
McPhail said when a teacher or staff member is laid off that person is put on a preferred eligibility list, which is based on seniority enforced by law. She said district’s never know when an opening will occur so at any time one might occur, the person on top of that list would be first eligible for that job. That person would come back maintaining his or her salary, according to McPhail. A public hearing on the 2010-11 proposed budget will take place on May 5.
Members of the community will have the chance to vote on the proposed budget, the purchase of a bus and election of board members on Tuesday, May 18 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Sterling Auditorium. Two seats are open on the board and petitions are due to the district clerk by April 19.