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Ogdensburg City School passes $36.8 million budget

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The Ogdensburg Board of Education passed a $36,822,000 budget for the 2013-2014 school year at Monday’s meeting, preserving roughly eight jobs and several popular programs.

The final budget includes $2.2 million in appropriated fund balance, $17.5 million in state foundation aid and $9.5 million in property taxes – a 4.69 percent increase over last year’s levy.

The district also received $100,000 in bullet aid attributed to Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

The budget represents a $3 million increase over the 2012-2013 spending plan and will be put out for a public vote on April 22.

Although the board applied $2.2 million in fund balance - $200,000 more than they planned – in order to balance their budget, the district will still lose four teachers to attrition, one with the closure of Sherman Elementary School and a part-time technology coach.

But the district managed to avoid axing the Odyssey of the Mind, summer marching band and making further cuts into the French program.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said. “Going forward, we’re not going to have $2 million [in fund balance] next year.”

Mr. Vernsey wasn’t the only one warning that Ogdensburg’s fiscal troubles are just beginning.

Michael J. Tooley, vice president of the Board of Education, said the positions and programs that were saved this year will be the first things on the chopping block next year.

“We’re looking at a hole of over $2 million again to start the year [for 2014-2015],” Mr. Tooley said.

President of the Board Frederick P. Bean said, “I would say to the people at the bottom of this list [of saved positions] that you’ve probably got about a year to find a job.”

The budget was supported by Mr. Bean, and members Ronald N. Johnson, Craig A. Lalonde, Betty J. Mallott, Lawrence G. Mitchell, Vicky M. Peo and Laurie J. Zweifel. Mr. Tooley and member Renee C. Grizzuto voted against the budget.

Mr. Tooley said applying $2.2 million in fund balance this year goes too far and makes the district more vulnerable next year.

Ogdensburg Education Association President David G. Price said he was “proud of the way our community has come together here.”

Mr. Price said he understands “there are some real financial issues” facing the district but was happy with the way the board handled the situation, though he stressed that even cuts by attrition hurt the community.

Mr. Price said the community needs to lobby lawmakers in order to push for a more equitable distribution of school aid.

Mr. Vernsey also advocated further lobbying efforts directed at Albany.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s criminal what they’re doing to poor children in this state,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Mr. Vernsey said the state should give less money to wealthy districts. He noted in this year’s state budget low-need districts are seeing an average increase in state aid of six percent while Ogdensburg, on the other hand, received a 2.45 percent state aid increase, not including building aid.

“It’s very disheartening to be in education right now,” Mr. Vernsey said. “It’s a greasy slope and it’s getting steeper.”

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