Budget talks roll on as vote nears


WEBUTUCK — The Webutuck Board of Education continued to pore over Superintendent of Schools Richard Johns proposed 2007-2008 budget at its meeting Monday night.

The latest version carries a 6.8 percent increase from last year’s fiscal plan.

At the board’s March 19 meeting, members discussed lowering budget parameters the superintendent set three years ago in order to lower the taxpayer’s burden.

The parameters are as follows: keep the tax levy between 5 and 8 percent, the district expense variance in the 9 to 11 percent range and the district fund balance between 19 and 22 percent.

On March 26, the board verbally agreed to cut $77,000 from certain budget lines in order to keep the tax levy in the 5.4 percent area.

To do that, $50,000 was taken out of the district fuel line, $20,000 from BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) shared maintenance line and $7,000 from substitute teacher salaries. The BOCES crew offers affordable prices and handles projects that Webutuck’s crew can’t, Webutuck Business Administrator Kevin Geoghan said.

This move, if approved, would bring the district expense variance (the ratio between what the district budgets and what it actually spends) to 7.6 percent and the fund balance to 19.4 percent.

"This reflects the fact that we’re tightening our belts," said board member Dale Culver.

Geoghan explained that if district spending doesn’t fluctuate wildly, which he said he doubts will happen, the $77,000 transfer will have a positive effect on the 2008-2009 budget.

Culver stressed that since Webutuck is classified as an underutilized district because of low student enrollment, the board should take a hard look at cutting recurring costs, especially in the area of staffing.

"We should look at that," Susan Lounsbury, school board vice-president, agreed.

It’s no surprise that New York state aid, which is determined by Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s budget, has dwindled in recent years, board member Joe Herald said.

Herald said the board should focus on lowering the parameters the next few years so the district isn’t hit hard by lower state funding.

"Long term, it makes sense to have those goals," Culver agreed.

Board member Joe Matteo said he was in favor of cutting expenditures to lower district budget increases.

"We should look at spending in small, incremental amounts," he suggested.

Board member John Perotti said Herald was "right on target" when he suggested lowering parameters.

"I also agree with Joe [Matteo] that we have to cut costs. We should put those two things together," he said.

The district should lower the parameters rather than eliminating positions to cut costs, Herald said.

The board was provided with a list of eight possible cuts from next year’s school budget.

The first on the list was a proposition to consolidate the district transportation system, elementary, middle and high school, into one run.

While the entire board said they might take this into consideration in years to come, it’s not a possibility for this year.

The fourth proposed cut was to eliminate a math position.

Culver identified this subject as a "point of weakness" for the Webutuck Central School District and said he was wary of following through on the recommendation.

"I would much rather stick with the notion of caressing the parameters," board Vice-President Susan Lounsbury agreed.

"It would increase the burden on the teachers," Herald continued.

"It sounds like most of the board is not in favor of eliminating [the math position]," board President Bernadette Coniglio gathered. "It’s off the table."

One item on which opinions differed was cutting some extracurricular activities like boys football and girls field hockey.

If they were cut, it would save the district about $30,000, Johns said.

Matteo said that once participation dwindles to almost nothing, "the program will take care of itself through evolution."

Herald said the board should eliminate it now, rather than wait for it to be phased out. This way, former football and field hockey players would have time to find another sport to play.

"But we don’t have a crystal ball," Matteo said.

"I would much rather have the opportunity there for the students," Lounsbury offered. "If it dies out because of lack of enrollment, the students are saying they don’t want it."

The board could not come to a consensus on the issue.

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