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Norwood-Norfolk $20 million budget adopted, awaits May 20 public vote

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NORFOLK — Now that Norwood-Norfolk Central School officials have adopted a $20.6 million budget, they await the response from district residents May 20.

Superintendent James M. Cruikshank outlined the 2014-15 spending plan last week.

“What we have here are the key points for what the voters are going to be voting on,” he said. “The proposed budget is $20,633,492, which is a 1.75 percent increase. To keep this budget to a 1.75 percent increase has not been an easy task.”

The district’s projected tax levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, calls for a $29,908 increase, or 0.49 percent. The group plans to use $1,477,211 in reserves and fund balance. That’s a $390,817 increase over the 2013-14 budget.

The current tax rate is $30.39 per $1,000 of assessed value for property owners in the town of Norfolk and $24.92 per $1,000 for town of Potsdam residents.

“This is on top of what I call historic financial problems from the state,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “The additional state aid that we received this year was about $300,000 more than (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s) proposal. However, the Gap Elimination Adjustment is still in effect. Our GEA for this coming school year is $165,633, and that’s money that was promised to us that the governor is withholding. So far, in a total of five years, Norwood-Norfolk’s GEA is $3,854,228. That’s less in aid than what was established through the foundation aid formula.”

New York state created a foundation aid formula nearly a decade ago for a more equitable way to fund public schools. Mr. Cruikshank said that for the past eight years, the state has either changed or frozen the formula so it could balance its budget.

“Norwood-Norfolk, just for the foundation aid formula, has been shortchanged $21,070,950 from what was promised by this formula,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “That equates to $2,633,869 per year. So the increase in state aid that we received this year does not overcome the combined problems between the GEA and foundation aid problems.”

An initial spending plan for the school included a $632,000 gap and eliminated eight full-time-equivalent teachers. They included a half-time science teacher, a half-time English language arts teacher, a half-time social studies teacher, a half-time math teacher and three teaching assistants. The move would have saved $498,000.

The proposed cuts generated public dissent at recent Board of Education meetings. Many said the teaching assistants provided not only academic but also personal support for students. Some graduates said they would not have received their diplomas without that help.

District officials projected the cuts based on initial numbers proposed by Mr. Cuomo’s state budget. When the final state budget was passed, they received aid for next year that was increased to $13,038,643.

“This budget does contain two additional elementary teachers that were requested to keep class sizes below 25,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “It also includes two JV teams. This coming year it looks like the numbers will dictate in girls soccer and in girls basketball.”

A budget hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 13 in the district’s boardroom.

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