SSCS vows a "conservative" budget


By Patsy Nicosia

Sharon Springs Central School will need to carve $163,124 from its 2009-2010 budget to hold its tax increase to four percent.
A zero percent tax increase? That would mean a total of $255,566 in cuts.
Either figure is in addition to $58,300 in mid-year cuts just made by eliminating an elementary teacher, a bus driver, and in cuts to cheerleading and modified sports travel.
Like schools across New York State, SSCS is being hit hard by cuts in state aid.
Expenses are up some $296,498—3.6 percent, said Business Administrator Tony DiPace, most of it in salaries and insurance.
State aid for the $8.5 million budget—already below contingency--is expected to be down $183,987; the budget shortfall is estimated at $221,424 even with using about half of the district’s $816,907 fund balance.
“We have a healthy fund balance, but it could become unhealthy very quickly,” said Board President Alan Potter Monday.
“Next year could be even more disastrous. It’s probably best to be as conservative as possible, even if we have to eliminate some things entirely.”
SSCS has just begun public work on its budget.
Monday’s school board meeting focus was on materials and supplies, where requests for things like textbooks, assemblies, field trips, and athletic equipment have been reduced by $75,772 to $316,400 in very preliminary budget figures.
Former SSCS Business Administrator Joan Baxter was one of five people in the audience—almost everyone else was at the basketball game—and she argued for greater teacher accountability.
“If you start with 20 textbooks, you need to end up with 20. If you go out to the tennis courts with 10 tennis balls, you need to come back in with 20,” Ms. Baxter said.
Parent Patty Trigg said she’s been told there are tennis nets and probably soccer nets, too, buried under the snow.
“That’s kind up upsetting,” Ms. Trigg said. “And I jut passed a basketball team with new uniforms and that’s upsetting. Do away with modified sports. Do away with the afterschool program.
“Kids get detention and get to ride the bus home? It’s time to stop spoon-feeding parents. We just can’t afford it anymore.”
Board members agreed that a dollar here, $10 there adds up.
“But we’re going to have to make some big changes that will probably hurt some people,” said board member Jim MacFadden.
“I like the idea of a zero percent increase. We can do it if we want to. But my question is, if we do, will we be penalized by the state for it next year?”
Sharon’s mid-year cut in elementary staffing was made after the number of second-graders dropped significantly; the bus driver position was eliminated by reducing morning runs to four.
“There are some difficult decisions ahead,” said Superintendent Pat Green. “People will be hurt.
“We need to be careful how much we spend down our fund balance, though. I think the state has an unspoken objective of getting smaller districts to merge. If, in three or four years, our fund balance is gone, we’ll be in a really difficult position.”