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Canton Central may be forced to make $1.1 million in cuts

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CANTON — Unless more state aid comes through, Canton Central School District officials may be forced to cut jobs, nonmandated classes, sports and extracurricular activities from next year’s budget.

Superintendent William A. Gregory said officials may have to identify $1.1 million worth of cuts to help offset a projected $2.3 million budget deficit.

The level of cuts will depend on several factors, including whether the district will be reclassified by the state as “high needs” rather than “average needs.” The change in classification could generate $900,000 more a year.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has met with state education officials about the classification change. In January, the district submitted a formal request to Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

The state is using data from the 2000 census, which is outdated; 2010 census data show the district’s poverty rate nearly doubled over those 10 years.

Another unknown is how much additional money will be allocated to Canton from the $203 million fiscal stabilization fund Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set aside in his proposed 2013 budget for cash-strapped school districts.

Mr. Gregory said he is pushing to find out what factors will be used to determine which districts get the extra money.

“Every district is saying they need more funding. Some do and some don’t,” he said.

Canton will argue that it has lost more than $5,950 per student over the past four years, among the highest in the state. Also, the district’s state aid has dropped by 9.6 percent since the 2008-09 school year, excluding building aid.

A fixed-pension system being offered by the state could save the district $470,000 next year, but might not be in the district’s best interest over the long haul because it would be locked into fixed pension rates for the next 25 years.

Also, the proposal has to be approved by the state comptroller and the New York State Teachers Retirement System.

“It would be hard to say no if it’s available to us, given the circumstances,” Mr. Gregory said. “If it happens, it likely won’t happen in time for this budget.”

To reduce the revenue shortfall, the district may have to cut nonmandated subjects such as art, music, family and consumer sciences, and technology sciences. Sports, extracurriculars, agriculture and FFA programs could be eliminated, as could either Spanish or French.

During Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, resident Timothy Lamitie said he’s heard from community members who are unhappy with the new Canton Central Teachers Association contract, which provides salary raises that total 12.5 percent over the next four years.

For the first time, members of the teachers union will be required to contribute to their health insurance premiums, a concession that’s expected to save the district $300,000 over four years.

“I am concerned with comments made by colleagues and friends that the decision to approve the contract is reckless, irresponsible and signals a lack of leadership by the board,” Mr. Lamitie said.

“I am hopeful that the board can respond to such comments with substance and detail.”

Board of Education President Barbara B. Beekman defended the new contract.

“The bottom line is that if we had done nothing, it would have cost us more,” she said.

“If we did nothing, we get nothing.”

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