School board meeting night: Cuts, tax increases, unrest

Photo: KB35, Creative Commons, some rights reservedUpd

Update, 12:30pm: Our reporter Julie Grant just spoke with Canton Central Superintendent Bill Gregory, who told her the district is eliminating one bus route. The district had considered cutting all student transportation within Canton village limits, but Gregory says that’s now off the table, at least until next year.

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Good morning! It’s only Tuesday, but it’s been a big week already for school budgets, and for making tough compromises.

In Canton last night, the Watertown Daily Times reports, the Canton Central Board of Education voted on its budget; the one it passed will increase the school tax levy by 5.4 percent, which is the most allowed under the New York state tax cap. That means the owner of an average-priced Canton home will pay $73 more per year than he or she is paying this year. (Residents will vote on the budget on May 21, with an official public hearing on May 9.)

The Board of Education also came out in favor of filling the middle school principal job that will become vacant July 1, although (naturally) that discussion is about much more than just one position. There’s a lot more detail on that in the paper.

An April 12 article in the Times had talked about the Canton budget eliminating a bus driver job (and eliminating one bus run through consolidations along with cutting after school bus trips), along with three others (a high school social studies position, a librarian and a special education teacher) that would be left vacant when their current holders retire. We’ll be following up on the specifics of the new budget and will check in with those as we know more.

In Massena, the Board of Education voted last night to eliminate the alternative education program called the Delta School of Choice. And that’s not the only thing the new budget is cutting. The new budget eliminates the equivalent of 29.25 full time positions, for a spending decrease of $1.77 million. On top of that, three positions will be cut through attrition or retirement, 1.5 will be replaced with lower-salaried jobs, and two will be moved over to the St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES.

And there’s so much more detail about what Massena’s cutting in the paper. If you’re wondering, it does include teachers, at the high school and middle school levels. All this to help close a budget shortfall of $5.6 million, which Finance Committee Chair Michael J. LeBire said would exhaust district reserves by 2016-17 if the district didn’t take steps.

Voters will also face a 2.9 percent tax increase.

The Watertown City School District has been informing staff members about layoffs and program cuts yesterday and today, but until they’ve shared those decisions with the people who are going to be affected, they’re not sharing with the press, reports the Watertown Daily Times.

Superintendent Terry N. Fralick started meeting with those whose jobs or programs are slated to be cut yesterday; although as we said details aren’t forthcoming yet, we know the district plans to cut nearly $500,000 in personnel and programs. So we’ll see where that goes.

And finally, WWNY-TV is reporting that the Clifton-Fine Central Board of Education meeting was characterized last night by “unrest”, with students and teachers protesting the board’s decision to terminate the contract of Interim Principal Brian Buchanan.

It seems that things have gotten somewhat ugly in the administration of this district: The board’s plan is to move Interim Superintendent Sue Sheen back into her original position as principal (replacing Buchanan); Sheen was interested in the Super position (who wouldn’t be, since it’s got “super” in it?) but for unspecified reasons the board didn’t approve her.

Buchanan (whose termination, you may recall, students and teachers are protesting) was reviewed for a “physical confrontation he had with a student that was caught on camera.” He’ll be moving on to a new job as principal in the Oneida, NY, City School District. There’s also some intrigue involving an allegedly threatening email from a school board member to a staff member; apparently there was a “heated back and forth” on this matter.

Julie Grant contributed substantial reporting for this post.

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