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St. Lawrence Central school board eliminates several positions in 2014-15 spending plan

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BRASHER FALLS - After nearly three hours of discussion among themselves and with audience members Wednesday night, St. Lawrence Central School Board of Education members approved the district’s $21,353,197 spending plan for 2015-15 that calls for the elimination of several positions.

They include one math teacher, one physical education teacher, one business teacher, a half-time language teacher, one teacher assistant, one school counselor, one art teacher, one teacher aide, one cook, 5 percent of an athletic director and a half-time music teacher.

The vote to approve the budget, however, was not unanimous, with board member Jonathan Burnett voting against it because he felt more of the fund balance should have been used to save positions.

Board members had taken a break after a lengthy discussion, and board President Robert Dow said he polled all of the board members about the use of the fund balance.

“All but one said not to take any additional funds from the fund balance,” he said.

The middle school/high school library was filled with teachers, students, graduates and community members who implored the board to look at other alternatives to the cuts. They spoke during the public comment portion, as well as during the budget discussion by board members.

Thomas Morrison, president of the St. Lawrence Central United Teachers union, said he was disappointed that the proposed cuts hadn’t been made public until Wednesday evening.

“I hope the details will be revealed tonight concerning the proposed cuts in next year’s budget. There seems to be almost a shroud of secrecy around the budget this year,” he said.

Mr. Morrison also said he was disappointed that budget work sessions weren’t better advertised so they could have attended, and that faculty and staff had not been better informed about the proposed cuts.

“I’m disappointed the community has been kept in the dark. Please listen to the concerns that will come up in public hearings. Perhaps more voices will bring more ideas to save what we have without cutting so deeply into our programs,” he said.

But Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. said he had met with every employee who was impacted by the reductions.

“You just said that the only way you learned about the cuts was through the newspaper. That’s a falsehood. Every single employee has been met with several times with the exception of one who was met with today once. You know that; I’ve told you,” he said.

Mr. Morrison said every employee was affected by the cuts.

“To know the general cuts would have been very good so we can plan ahead. As union president I haven’t been informed what the cuts are,” he said.

Mr. Vigliotti said that, up until the board approved the budget, they had been using “a laundry list of potential cuts.”

Mr. Burnett said they didn’t want to put incorrect information out until they had finalized the list.

“It’s been four months of arguing and twisting each other’s arms. That’s why we can’t publish it. We’ve been fighting this for a long time. We can’t keep jerking people around like that until we have a decision,” he said.

Several speakers pleaded to come up with other alternatives to save the positions, with some suggesting that the district use as much of their fund balance as necessary to provide the education the students deserved.

“It makes me sad. It seems to be crumbling around us. I implore you to please make decisions in the best interest of the students and education,” said teacher Margaret Snyder, who read several letters from graduates sharing the same concerns.

Christine Compo-Martin said, at the same time the district was making cuts to the teaching ranks, more administrators were being added - a curriculum coordinator, a data analyst and a committee on special education chairperson.

Mr. Vigliotti said that, when he was hired to take over the district in July, his goal was to improve student achievement, something that could be accomplished with those three administrator positions.

“I asked for certain things. They (board members) didn’t ask for it. I did. Those were my instructions. I felt they were needed. I came here to improve student achievement,” he said.

But, he said, he was willing to cut them and there would still be a major gap.

The positions are through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services and district receives 80 percent aid back, meaning a cost to the district of $35,0000 for all three administrators, he said. He pointed out that the district paid more for administrators last year than they did using BOCES services.

“That’s the magic of BOCES,” Mr. Vigliotti said.

“Two of those positions I philosophically believe help kids,” he said.

Even if the positions were eliminated, they were still looking at a gap of more than $670,000, according to the superintendent.

“What can we cut for $675,000 that doesn’t affect the kids?” he asked, soliciting input from the audience.

He said he realized the frustration in the audience, something he had also witnessed from the board of education members.

“I’ve watched them tear themselves inside out. Their focus has been on the kids the entire time. These are the cuts that hurt,” Mr. Vigliotti said. “I’ve been here nine months. I’ve gone over and under every area. After forming 14 budgets in my career, I can’t find $675,000 that won’t affect kids. It’s not there.”

By not using more fund balance, he said they will have $2.7 million remaining, but it’s money that has to last.

Ms. Snyder wondered why they would delay the inevitable - going broke - and she suggested it was important to provide the proper education now and work toward solutions to their finances in the future.

“If we’re only buying one or two more years, why make the kids suffer one or two years?” she said.

“The children you’re losing, they’ll never get those years back,” said Kristin Towne, an art teacher for nearly two decades in the district who will be losing her job with the cuts. “The damage that is done will be un-doable to those kids.”

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