CR: Nothing sacred in budget


By Jim Poole

In looking to close Cobleskill-Richmondville’s 2009-10 budget gap, nothing is sacred to school officials.
“Everything is on the table for discussion,” Superintendent Lynn Macan said in reviewing C-R’s budget talks.
Administrators began budget work for next year months ago, looking at the current $36.8 million budget and how that projects to next year.
It’s not pretty.
If C-R carried the same budget forward into 2009-10, including increased contracts and other costs, revenues would fall short by more than $1 million, Ms. Macan said.
“Increasing costs and declining revenues lead to a budget gap,” she said. “We know that’s unacceptable.”
C-R has not filled several positions that became open this year and won’t fill them next year, she said.
That approach will continue as other positions open.
“As each one comes up, we’ll address it, and wherever possible, we’ll go without,” Ms. Macan said.
“Anything we do today will help in the coming year.”
There may be further staff cuts, particularly those that may go unfilled after retirements.
C-R is at impasse in negotiations with the teachers’ union on a new contract, and the district is just beginning talks with the non-teaching union on a new contract.
Both sets of labor talks offer “opportunity for conversation” about what the unions may concede in the tough financial year ahead, Ms. Macan said.
Elsewhere, cuts may be coming in some of the district’s cherished programs, Ms. Macan said.
Through the fall and winter, officials met with a citizens’ budget committee and another committee of business, school and community representatives to determine “what distinguishes our district” from others, Ms. Macan said.
Listing those features off the top of her head, Ms. Macan named the orchestra, Odyssey of the Mind teams, a broad range of sports, broad high school programs and electives, driver’s ed, a nurse in every school and a library media specialist in every school.
Those items won’t necessarily be cut, Ms. Macan said, but officials are considering them.
Federal stimulus money will help somewhat, she added, but officials aren’t sure of the guidelines that will limit how it’s spent.
C-R is slated to get slightly less than $700,000.
“Federal money is not going to erase the problems we have,” Ms. Macan said.
Complicating the picture is that the stimulus money will be spread over two years. And even though the money is from Washington, the state will determine how districts may spend it.
“It will still be a one-shot or a two-shot,” Ms. Macan said. “And if it’s aimed at job retention, is it better to keep people for two years and bite the bullet then?”
Juggling the variables, officials are trying to get the district’s spending as low as possible. Even if they come in with a zero spending increase for next year, however, taxes are likely to go up because of equalization rates.
That’s what happened last year, when C-R appeared to have a slight spending increase. Equalization rates released later forced taxes up more than 20 percent in several towns.
“We recognize what the equalization rates did last year,” Ms. Macan said. “It wasn’t the tax levy, it was the equalization rates.
“We’re still in a position where we have to get as low as possible.”
She expected to have some budget information for Monday’s school board meeting and a more complete picture at the March 23 meeting.