CR: Next year worse than 2011 financially


By Jim Poole

Faced with what could be a $2 million budget shortfall in 2012-13, Cobleskill-Richmondville officials are considering strategies to close that gap.
Among those strategies are a regional high school, renting school buildings and sharing classes with SUNY Cobleskill, Superintendent Lynn Macan told school board members Monday night.
C-R is starting the budget process early because the next school year looks financially worse than this one.
If C-R carried all its programs from this year into 2012-13, costs would rise an estimated $1 million, Ms. Macan said.
Those cost increases would come in personnel and salaries, insurance and payments into the state retirement fund, she said.
At the same time, C-R wouldn't be getting nearly $900,000 in federal jobs money that it's receiving this year.
Also, school officials remain concerned about continued cuts in state aid.
"We've already lost $3 million in aid the past three years," Ms. Macan said.
What C-R isn't considering--at least right now--are massive layoffs. The district laid off more than 20 teachers and support staff last year to close a budget gap.
"It's not possible to sustain the depth of layoffs next year" and give students solid programs while meeting state mandates, Ms. Macan said.
But there are other alternatives, she added.
One cost-cutting move might be a regional high school including C-R, Schoharie, Middleburgh and Sharon Springs.
Ms. Macan and officials from other schools have informally talked about a regional high school, "but that's as far as it's gone," she said.
The state allows regional high schools in some areas, Ms. Macan said, but not here. She raised the possibility of getting approval from Albany.
"There's no question we'd have a broader and deeper range of programs for students," she said.
"But I don't know if it's possible for 2012-13."
Because C-R is facing declining enrollment, the district might have space to rent, Ms. Macan said.
Residents last year suggested closing Radez School, but Ms. Macan said that's not possible now.
"We can't consolidate students and close one school," she said, "but we could rent part of a building.
"That would be a new source of revenue for us."
She also suggested partnering with SUNY Cobleskill for some classes. Students in both institutions would take courses at the other.
"We'd assist the college and have the college assist us," Ms. Macan said. "This would offset expense instead of generating revenue."
At the crux of C-R's financial trouble--as with other rural districts--is a smaller share of state aid. Ms. Macan suggested letter-writing campaigns to Albany to get the aid formula improved.
"We need to get the community engaged and convinced the aid formula should be redistributed, she said.
Ms. Macan outlined other strategies to either save money or raise revenue:
•Sharing services with nearby school districts.
•Targeted grant writing.
•Try to provide opportunities for students in the community.
•Freeze current spending to save money for next year.
•Understanding what the two-percent tax levy cap really means.
C-R officials will be exploring those possibilities--and more--in the coming months.
"When we look students in the eye, we want to be able to say, 'We did everything we could,' " Ms. Macan said.
"Our goal is to retain everything we have. It's a hard job."