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Potsdam citizens voice concerns over budget proposal

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POTSDAM - Prior to the start of Tuesday night’s board of education meeting, several members of the Potsdam community spoke out against proposed budget cuts, with some specifically mentioning the music position, but many speaking in broader terms.

Referring to the budget, which Superintendent Patrick Brady said cuts 9.5 positions, Elizabeth Bollt called the proposal unacceptable.

“To me this is unacceptable,” she said. “We need to do something else.”

And while many of the evening’s speakers said they were against restructuring, something the board decided at their last meeting would not happen, Ms. Bollt said if restructuring could help save job, bring it on.

“We can’t afford the cuts that were made three years ago,” she said. “If we need to look at restructuring, look at it tomorrow.”

Ms. Bollt, who said she is the mother of children currently enrolled in the district, said that if the district continues making cuts, she would consider removing them from the school.

“If things get bad enough, I can send my kids to private school, but I don’t want to do that,” she said, adding, “Unfortunately not everyone can do that.”

She added that she would rather see cuts to anything other than teaching positions, noting that she doesn’t blame the board for the situation they find themselves in.

“I’m really disheartened by the way the state is supporting its teachers,” she said. “We can teach kids in a closet, but we can’t teach them without teachers.”

Adrienne Hartman said as far as she’s concerned, the state’s lack of funding has reached the point where it’s borderline unconstitutional.

“As some point we’re delving into a constitutional issue where we can no longer provide a free education,” she said. “I almost feel like we’re entering a segregation zone, where the best and brightest are leaving and getting a private education.”

Trista Easton also spoke out against cutting teaching positions, making a passionate plea to the board to restore the potential cuts.

“Please, please consider keeping the staff we have now,” she said.

Debbie Shipp said she would like to see the district use more of its fund balance to offset the cuts.

“I would like to see Potsdam hang onto as many positions and programs as long as they can,” she said.

Another speaker said she’s not sure the positions slated to be cut are the ones that should be cut, calling cuts through attrition an easy way out for the board.

“I’m not so sure that the positions people are retiring from are the ones that should be cut,” said Angela Peploski, who added her 16-year-old son came home from school voicing concerns about the quality of education he was going to receive in the future.

“He shouldn’t have to worry about if he’s going to have the background to go to college,” Ms. Peploski said.

Mr. Brady’s proposal calls for cuts to a social studies, science, math, English, part-time French, music, elementary, special education and physical education teacher, as well as a teaching assistant.

Rachel Wallace said she feels like the district needs to take a different approach to creating their budgets.

“We need to stop being reactionary when it comes to our school funding issues,” she said. “While I sincerely hope I am wrong, it is unlikely that there are going to be any big positive changes in school funding. “

Ms. Wallace said she would like to see the district pursue alternative funding sources and more partnerships with the universities and colleges in the area.

“For this budget cycle I would ask that the board and administration do their best to maintain programs and facilities as best they can. Use more reserves if necessary, as our district seems to use less than is budgeted,” she said. “Once this budget is finished, waste no time working on the future of Potsdam Central. The success of our whole community depends on it.”

Following the conversation, which lasted for just over an hour, Board of Education President Christopher C. Cowen thanked those who participated and again reiterated that no structural reorganization was going to happen this year.

“I’ll say it again... We’re not looking at reorganizing anything or closing any schools this year,” he said, noting that doesn’t mean a reorganization of grade levels won’t be looked at again in the future.

“It may be something we have to look at next year,” he said.

As for what was said by each of the speakers, Mr. Cowen said the board was indeed listening to what community members had to say.

“I want to make it clear that everything you’ve said has hit home to all of us,” he said. “There’s no doubt we’ve got a difficult year in front of us. We had one last year and the year before that and the year before that. I would love to sit on the board when we have a surplus. I’ve been on the board since 2008 and I haven’t seen that yet.”

Mr. Cowen added, while Potsdam may have more to offer than other schools in the county, he doesn’t believe they really have all that much excess programming, especially when compared to other schools across the state.

“I would love to say we’re cutting Mandarin Chinese, but we can’t,” he said.

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