Morning Read: North Country schools cut, cut again

Governor Andrew Cuomo may be right about a lot of things, but he appears to have misread the financial situations of many New York schools, especially in places like the North Country.

Cuomo has been suggesting that schools should be able to navigate the coming year without draconian cuts using their fund reserves, along with some modest trims.

He also indicated that schools should address the salaries of their top administrators.

But a round-up of reports from regional newspapers suggest that many districts plan significant cuts to teachers, educational programs, and buildings.

The Plattsburgh Press Republican is reporting today that administrators in that district have already whittled a $4.3 million deficit down to just a $1.3 million shortfall.  But closing the remaining gap won’t be easy.

“Up to 15 positions are being considered for further reduction, along with about eight student-program impacts,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported recently that the Saranac Lake Central School District is preparing to cut fourteen positions, along with mothballing the Lake Colby kindergarten school.

Under the plan, the district would eliminate the following:  one full-time and two part-time positions by closing Lake Colby Elementary School; one foreign language teacher; one bus garage position; two clerical positions; one social studies teacher; one library position; one special education teacher; several positions where staff are retiring.

The Glens Falls Post Star is still tracking reactions to the planned closure of the popular Sanford Street Elementary School, announced this week.

But the paper is also reporting that the Glens Falls district may still have to cut “dozens” of jobs to balance the budget.

Of the potential reductions, 12 are teachers in English, math, social studies, foreign language, business, technology, physical education and elementary school.

The others include clerks, teacher aides and the principal of Sanford Street Elementary School, which will close this summer.

Of the 31 reductions, 13 would come through layoffs. The salary cuts would save $818,631. But eliminating positions also lowers the cost for benefits and pensions, bringing the total savings to $1 million.

Meanwhile, the Watertown Daily Times is reporting that even with these kinds of cuts, schools are burning through their fund reserves at an alarming rate, which could trigger even bigger cuts in the future.

Watertown City School District officials will use $1.6 million in fund balance to help bridge a nearly $5 million deficit in the 2011-12 budget. The district’s fund balance is about $8.7 million, Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said.

“The real problem is the next year,” Mr. Fralick said. “Our situation is very similar to other districts that will deplete their fund balance in a year or two. I don’t dispute what the governor is saying; we can make up the loss in state aid. But we can’t do it for very long.”

Kind of scary, right?  North Country schools are cutting dozens of jobs — and perhaps hundreds of jobs when added together.  But the real pain might not hit until next year.

It’s also worth noting that these cuts are coming even before Albany implements any kind of property tax cap, which could sharply limit the ability of district’s to raise more revenues locally.

As always, your comments welcome.

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17 Responses to “Morning Read: North Country schools cut, cut again”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    I think the situation is obvious. The rich, powerful elite who send their kids to private schools from pre-K through college are tired of helping to fund an education for those who depend on public schools.
    That’s the bad news.
    The good news is that the students deprived of a good education will resort to crime and that will spur the growth of the criminal justice system and that will include more prison jobs for the North County.
    You gotta love it when a plan comes together.

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  2. Mark says:

    And the abiding arguement against higher taxes for the wealthy is that it will drive businesses and jobs from the state. Instead, we gut our schools and hospitals and infrastructure. How, pray tell, does that make New York State a better place to do business?

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  3. newt says:

    And, as Krugman, or somebody said in the last day or so, studies consistently say the #1 and #2 things they look for in locating in an area are educational opportunities and infrastructure. Taxes are somewhere way down the list. Oh, well.

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  4. Paul says:

    Brian, a more accurate blog title would be “NY schools cut and cut again”

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  5. Paul says:

    Mark and Pete, if folks like you continue to frame this issue as only having one solution “tax the wealthy” it will never get solved. Schools need more money, they are many ways to make sure they have more. Cuomo is opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy, find a new angle if you want to do something other than complain.

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  6. Mark says:

    Paul-

    I didn’t say that taxing the wealthy was the only answer. What I did say was the argument against raising such taxes is inconsistent with what the Cuomo administration is proposing to do.

    As to your point, “Cuomo is opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy, find a new angle if you want to do something other than complain.” Am I to take your meaning that Cuomo’s positions are sacrosanct and beyond dispute? I thought I was trying to pose a rational argument against his position, and I take offense at your willingness to simply dismiss it as complaining. Otherwise, what is the point of political discourse?

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  7. scratchy says:

    I have a hard time believing that cuts can’t be made seeing as we spend more pre student than any other state in the nation. Though in truth, Cuomo hasn’t proposed any sort of mandate relief that would allow district to operate more efficiently. He should have proposed requiring teachers with more than 10 years of service contribute to the pension fund- now they contribute nothing.

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  8. Paul says:

    Mark, sorry I did not mean to offend you. I just find it tiring that we continue to debate along relatively narrow lines. I am not for or against any tax increase on the wealthy, but when it appears that things have basically been taken off the table there is really no point. Brian has written several blogs related to the question of should we go down that road. It appears to me that the road is pretty well blocked. The position is not “beyond dispute” but it appears to me that it would take a pretty huge bulldozer to get through that block. We can waste our time and beat away at the road block with sticks but we have to find a way around this or we will never make progress.

    But you are correct and this is simply discourse and it has no real impact so whack away.

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  9. Pete Klein says:

    What King Cuomo has done is to offer a choice between being shot or hanged. Take your pick.
    I still remain committed to eliminating all unfunded mandates coming down from both the state and federal governments. If they don’t want to fund their mandates through the income tax, they should not be mandating anything.

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  10. Paul 1 says:

    More alarming to me is the governor’s political discourse. He identifies scapegoats (teachers and school leaders). He proposes cost sharing but cuts incentive aid to schools for using BOCES (the main purpose of BOCES IS COST SHARING). He refers to opposition as educators “playing a game.” These “game players” are fighting for their livelihoods and their students. The governor is the son of an attorney. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing in comparison to other kids from Queens. He benefited from a private education from elementary school through undergraduate school. His biographers try to portray a “blue collar muscle car guy.” Don’t believe it. He is out of touch with public education, out of touch with rural communities and out of line in his rhetoric. True leaders bring people together. This man is a divisive politician and not a true leader.

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  11. tootightmike says:

    While we sit here, reading this blog, and getting fired up, How many will write to the governor tonight? Speak your mind people. The governor hears from those with money every day and they have plenty of advice, but does he hear from you? Has he heard from every parent who will complain of the cutbacks next year? Has he heard from every school teacher in the state?
    He’s heard from the bankers on Wall St. He’s heard from the health insurance industry execs. They have someone to take care of that for them…someone on staff to heckle and harass if necessary, to make sure they are well cared for.
    Make your voice heard. Write to them all…TONIGHT.

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  12. scratchy says:

    How about a letter writing campaign to pass legislation that would require teachers to contribute to their pensions and health care plans?

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  13. Flounder709 says:

    Why is it that we haven’t heard about many unions offering pay freezes to help save jobs? How many of these jobs could be saved if the greedy unions gave a little? Why is no one talking about how if the highest paid teachers were cut first you could probably save 2 or 3 newer teachers who are probably better teachers? As long as the union bosses keep looking out for themselves and their highest earners we will never have meaningful negotiations and never solve this problem.
    Please don’t give me the nysut line of bs that they care about the students. How does a guaranteed raise affect you ability to teach? How does contributing to your own healthcare cost affect your ability to teach. I know there are a few districts that currently have responsible unions but the overwhelming majority of them ignore their role in causing the children to face these impending cuts.

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  14. Dennae says:

    As a teacher I agree we should be contributing more to retirement, we do however already contribute to our health care although that amount is negotiable and different in every school. I keep hearing about the cost per student and how high it is. There are many small rural schools in the North Country and the costs are high because student population is down. You have to do the math though. If it costs 30,000 per student in a school of say 150 students that sounds outrageous. But if you drop another 100 students in that building and drop your cost to 15,000 per student your overall budget is not going to go down, it will stay about the same. Also, the state calculates your aid based on your wealth ratio. I learned last night that many of the small communitees in the North Country have a lot of empty land that boosts their wealth ratio up. Many communittees up here are land wealthy and cash poor. Perhaps what we should be doing is to try and get the state to change the formula which they use to decide who gets what in state aid.

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  15. Interested says:

    Let’s dismiss the idea that quality education is related to spending, it is not. New York spends more than all but 3 other states, yet its students rank only 36th in achievement.
    Innovation and new ideas are needed, yet the education industry clings to the outdated, uninspired mindset that has harmed our state’s students and its future.
    So far, our education industry has demonstrated that they simply do not get it.

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  16. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    First of all, ALL members of the five NYS retirement systems should be required to contribute beyond the required ten years, not just teachers. And most teachers do contribute to their health care costs. Should it be a higher amount? Perhaps in some districts. But please stop insinuating that teachers aren’t paying anything for these benefits.

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  17. scratchy says:

    Actually, there are 13 school district in the North Country where teachers contribute nothing to their health insurance.
    http://www.cbcny.org/sites/default/files/BLOG_Table1_02022011_0.jpg

    http://www.cbcny.org/cbc-blogs/blogs/school-districts-should-achieve-substantial-savings-following-state-practices-employ

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