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Massena Central Finance Committee whittles down 2013-14 budget

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MASSENA — The Massena Central School District has made headway on paring down a projected $5.6 million deficit in the 2013-14 budget, but the chairman of the Finance Committee said hard work lies ahead.

Michael J. LeBire told the Board of Education on Thursday night that the committee’s goal is $2.5 million to $3 million in cuts, and that the current proposal shows an estimated shortfall of $3.2 million.

“The committee is looking at a series of cuts,” he said.

No specifics on the cuts were presented. Mr. LeBire said the committee is using several criteria, including mandatory versus nonmandatory positions and programs; maintaining programs; maintaining acceptable class sizes; the impact of cuts on students, the district and the community; the cost of a program and the cost per student; maximizing shared services, and eliminating open positions where possible.

The latest projection shows an estimated 2013-14 budget of $48.7 million, up from $46 million this year largely because of increases in salaries, retirement contributions, health insurance and costs for programs and services provided by the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“Personnel is our biggest expense,” Mr. LeBire said.

He said salaries will go up 5.2 percent; the contribution to the teacher retirement system will increase as much as 16.3 percent, and the contribution to the employee retirement system will go up as much as 20.9 percent.

Health insurance costs, meanwhile, will increase 6.3 percent, while BOCES costs will rise 5 percent.

This year’s revenue is $42,046,132. Mr. LeBire said the district is anticipating a 3 percent increase in state aid, or $751,411, and a 5 percent property tax increase would mean $681,288, bringing estimated 2013-14 revenue to $43,478,831.

Mr. LeBire said the district has faced cuts in state aid.

“Our aid has gone down over the last three to four years,” he said. “The impact is that essentially we’ve lost $6 million” because of gap elimination adjustments.

With the original $5.6 million shortfall, Mr. LeBire said, the district would have had to hit taxpayers with a 41.5 percent tax levy increase or cut dozens of teachers and administrators.

The district has 422.8 full-time-equivalent positions, including 211 teachers and 18.8 administrative positions.

The options for closing the gap included spending district reserves, raising taxes or cutting expenses.

By continuing to spend reserve funds, Mr. LeBire said, the district would be out of money by 2016-17.

Property tax increases also can’t cover the gap alone, according to the committee chairman.

Board member Leonard A. Matthews suggested moving eighth-grade students to the high school, having a junior high for fifth to seventh grades and closing one elementary building.

“We need to be pretty serious about this,” he said. “We’re not where some of the other districts are, but we will be soon.”

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