Day of reckoning at Onteora

$50 million budget goes to voters

by Lisa Childers
May 17, 2010 12:02 PM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Voters in the Onteora School district will go to the polls Tuesday, May 18, 2010 to consider a proposed budget for the 2010-2011 school year of $50,022,026, which shows a spending increase of .31 of one percent, or $156,807. Due to projected decreases in revenue, including state aid, such a budget would require an increase in the tax levy of 3.91 percent

Two three-year positions on the school board are also up for a vote, but neither is contested. Incumbents Tom Hickey and Rob Kurnit names appear on the ballot with no other candidates. Following an application process, the Onteora Board of Education chose both when Michelle Friedel and Richard Wolff resigned in July 2009, one year short of their three-year terms. Hickey is a Phoenicia resident and currently has two children attending school in the district. Kurnit is a Woodstock resident and married to an Onteora teacher.

Two propositions will be put before district voters, the first of which is the budget for the coming school year. The second proposition will be to approve a seven-passenger vehicle.

A copy of the $50,022,026 school budget is now on file at the district’s schoolhouses from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day prior to May 18 except Saturday, Sunday and holidays. The document is also available at the town libraries in the towns of Hurley, Olive, Phoenicia, West Hurley, and Woodstock during regular library business hours.

Voting will take place from 2pm to 9pm at all four elementary school polling centers. Kindergarten-through-grade six students will have an early dismissal at 1 p.m. A special meeting of the board will follow at approximately 9:30 p.m. at the Onteora Middle-High School in Boiceville, to accept the vote’s cast.

In addition to the budget, voters will be asked, in Proposition No. 2, to approve $35,000 for the purchase of a seven passenger bus to replace a vehicle over ten years old with over 200,000 miles clocked on it.

Over the past three months, the board worked on what was described as one of the most difficult budgets to date. Driving the budget was an increase in employee health care premiums of 14.9 percent, increase of retirement contribution from 6.19 percent to 8.62 percent, coupled with a loss of State Aid at $658,000 and loss of interest revenue of $100,000.

In order to find a tax levy that was palatable with the voters, the board needed to make deeps cuts or face a double-digit tax levy. When it settled upon the .31 percent budget increase with the 3.9 percent tax levy, a budget shortfall of over $2 million was created.

As the budget took shape, programs, staff and administrators were reviewed. As School Board President Laurie Osmond said, “Everything is on the table.” After reworking the budget and taking advantage of savings through staff retirements, some programs that were initially cut from the budget, were restored or trimmed. Also additional savings were found through the administration budget.

Overall, 11.5 teaching positions will be eliminated. This includes GED, speech, special educators and a middle school team. Out of the eleven full time teachers, six retired and five were laid off. Twelve non-teaching positions will be eliminated. Out of that group, four workers retired and eight will be laid-off. Other cuts include high school after school homework help, INDIE, technology and cheerleading. The INDIE program, once a popular alternative school for kids who do not always fit into the traditional school setting, lost its remaining $50,000 stipend. Over the years the program experienced a slow chipping away of its funding. Once located next to the High School, it is now an after school program located in Woodstock. Its future at this point is uncertain.

Some programs and staff initially on the chopping block have since been restored. This includes the librarian, a music teacher, Marching Band, Color Guard, volleyball, golf and indoor track teams. The district’s Gifted and Talented program will be partially restored.

If voters were to reject the budget two times, then a contingent (austerity) budget would be imposed, including a projected slight decrease in overall spending that would still require a 3.53 percent tax levy increase. Programs once slated for elimination would be cut including additional programs such as JV sports. ++

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