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Potsdam school board grapples with uncertain budget

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POTSDAM — According to Superintendent Patrick H. Brady, the Potsdam Central School District is 65 to 75 percent of its way through this year’s budget process. Unfortunately, though, the remaining 25 to 35 percent will be the most difficult.

“We have some key decisions to make in terms of fund balance, tax levy and, unfortunately, cuts to staffing,” Mr. Brady said, noting that at this point the board, which has yet to make any cuts from the budget, is facing a deficit of nearly $1.2 million.

He said officials don’t know how $203 million in unallocated education funding, which was included in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s state budget proposal, will be spent. Questions also remain about the governor’s pension stabilization plan and what, if any, savings that can bring to the school district.

One new development is talk of an additional $350 million in education funding that may be included in the state Legislature’s budget proposal.

Mr. Brady said he hopes that the district’s budget picture will look a bit better once the $203 million is allocated, answers are given regarding the pension stabilization plan and, potentially, the $50 million set aside for competitive grants, $75 million for education initiatives and $350 million being floated by the Legislature are distributed.

“If they are distributed based on need, we may see some significant relief to our gap,” he said.

As for what’s going to be cut and how much fund balance and reserves the district should use, Mr. Brady said, that picture will become clearer in coming weeks after the state releases its final budget, something that Mr. Brady said is expected as early as March 21.

“There’s certainly no good cuts. We are already bare bones,” Board of Education President Christopher C. Cowen said. “The administration can do all the work in the world, but the bottom line is, it all comes down to the nine people at this table.”

Finance committee member Thomas W. Hobbs said the district’s tax increase cap for next year is 4.78 percent. Mr. Brady said the budget at this point includes a 3.99 percent tax levy increase.

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