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Districts continue to bemoan state aid

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Schools are still reeling after seeing low numbers for school aid proposed in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget Tuesday afternoon.

Most schools ended up getting significantly less than the 4 percent promised during Mr. Cuomo’s speech, even when building aid is factored out.

“We’re slated to get an increase of under $16,000, so basically it’s not even worth it,” said Michele A. Traynor, General Brown business manager, on Tuesday. “It certainly can’t save a teaching position. Coupled with the tax cap, it really isn’t going to help generate income.”

She said Mr. Cuomo talked about a 4 percent increase in state aid, but the nearly $16,000 increase for General Brown is only a 0.13 percent increase.

“I think it means we need to contact our local legislators and advocate on behalf of the district,” Mrs. Traynor said. “They’ve yet to release their legislative budget.”

Sackets Harbor Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said he already has contacted state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, to help the school receive more aid from the state. The district is receiving $6,800 less when building aid is factored out.

“We’re still shaking our heads, hoping something can be done about it,” he said. “This is the springboard for action. Obviously, this is what we do every year.”

Mrs. Ritchie said she is planning to look at the numbers again before heading to Albany.

“I don’t think they changed the formula, but I’m not sure until we get the details. There was an increase to school districts in the 48th,” Mrs. Ritchie said, referring to the gap-elimination adjustment formula. Gap-elimination adjustments are cuts in state aid used to offset the state’s deficit. Sackets Harbor had nearly $616,000 cut from estimated aid this year.

Indian River Superintendent James Kettrick said he initially was pleased by the proposed aid his district will receive. Indian River is receiving 5.33 percent more than it did last year. The district typically receives more aid than others in the north country because of its proximity to Fort Drum. However, he acknowledged other districts might be struggling after cuts made last year.

“Given the gap-elimination funds cut last year, generally these runs don’t completely offset that at all,” he said.

Jamie A. Moesel, South Jefferson superintendent, also said she felt the estimated aid was looking sunnier despite the cuts in state aid the district has experienced in the past. It received a 3.35 percent increase, or $539,000, more in expected state aid for 2012-13 than for the current fiscal year.

“We’re just thankful that it is an increase this year,” she said. “We’ve had so many years where the reduction has been so severe.

The district had to cut 11 percent of its staff in 2010 because state aid was not enough to cover all expenses.

Judy L. Waligory, interim superintendent at Carthage Central, did not return phone calls to her offices.

LaFargeville Central Superintendent Susan L. Whitney said the district board does not yet know how to cope with a minimal 1 percent, or $53,930, increase in state aid because it cannot ask its teachers for another pay freeze.

Last year, LaFargeville teachers declined the 4.5 percent raises provided for in the contract with the district, saving the district some $154,000, to prevent staff cuts. In 2010, the employees unanimously agreed to take smaller, 2 percent pay raises.

“My hope is that it’s not the end,” Ms. Whitney said, adding she hopes local legislators will help secure more funding for rural schools in the area.

State aid for Thousand Islands Central will increase by a meager 0.1 percent, or $6,669, in the next fiscal year under Gov. Cuomo’s executive budget.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Joseph A. Menard, superintendent of T.I. Central, which is facing a $1.2 million shortfall in its preliminary 2012-13 school budget.

Just in the past two fiscal years, the district had to eliminate some 45 teaching and non-teaching positions while raising the tax levy and digging deep into its fund balance to cope with drastic cuts in school aid.

“What we’re facing — and what other districts are facing — is structural deficit where our revenues are not matching our expenditures,” Mr. Menard said, adding he hopes more state money will be allocated to education.

Between increasing gas, health care and pension costs, and the loss in revenue owing to the 2 percent tax levy cap and expiring federal stimulus funds, Thousand Islands will be forced either to make more tough cuts or ask district residents to approve a tax cap override, which requires a 60 percent supermajority vote.

The board plans to hold a public forum on its budget at 6 p.m. Jan. 31 at the high school/middle school library.

Times staff writers Rebecca Madden and Brian Amaral contributed to this report.

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