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Watertown City Schools face $476,000 in staff, program cuts

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The Watertown City School District will be short $476,000 in staff, programs and equipment next year.

Board of Education members approved the $66.2 million budget for 2013-14, including the district’s last-minute cuts, unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We have discussed at length the challenges we face next year and the year after,” said Superintendent Terry N. Fralick. “I can’t give you tonight the exact cuts to equipment and programs.”

He said the reductions, which will include staff, will be decided over the next week. Those whose jobs or programs will be cut will be informed soon.

The budget’s newest version shows a $450,000 decrease in the cost of personnel, including benefits.

The spending plan contains a $1,649,000, or 2.6 percent, jump from the current year’s $64,594,377.

The tax levy will increase 5 percent.

“We’ve been through this several times, so I’m used to seeing this,” said board member Kenneth F. Netto.

Additionally, state aid rose to $37,694,335, up 1.1 percent from the last budget presentation.

“The additional state aid, although modest, does help,” Mr. Fralick said.

He said the cuts are to soften the blow when the district’s fund balance is depleted in the next couple of years.

“We’ve lost $7 million over three years,” he said. “We’ve depleted our fund balance significantly and it’s discouraging.”

At the last board meeting March 26, Mr. Fralick said the district might face $1 million in staff and program cuts for the 2014-15 school year. At the time, the 2013-14 budget proposal was $66.7 million.

The district had to cut 55 positions a few years ago to close a budget gap. According to the budget presentation, the district has 45 fewer employees than it did in March 2009.

“We’ve got a few years where it’s going to be tough,” Mr. Fralick said.

In other business, the board approved a resolution to allow residents to vote on whether the district should sell the 376 Butterfield Ave. property previously used as the district office.

The property is appraised at $213,000.

“I’ve had one developer who called who’s been very interested in the property,” Mr. Fralick said.

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