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Kids First group urges more fund balance use to save MCS positions

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MASSENA - Those who attended a meeting Monday night to share their concerns about the cuts in the 2013-14 Massena Central School District budget say the district should be using more of its fund balance to keep programs and positions for the students.

Their concern, they said, is that students will suffer from the cuts, limiting educational opportunities available to them and putting them in classes that will be larger in size. Global Studies II class, for instance, would have more than 30 students per class, they said.

“My concern is for the students right now,” Erin Covell said.

District officials are using $3.1 million in fund balance toward their $46.8 million spending plan, and they say that at current rates, the district’s unrestricted reserves will be exhausted by 2016-17.

They had used $4.1 million in reserve funds to balance the 2012-13 budget.

But, in addition to using a chunk of fund balance, the 2013-14 budget also calls for the elimination of 29.25 full-time equivalent positions, a move which saves approximately $1.77 million. Those cuts will mean the loss of the Delta School of Choice, formerly the Alternative Education School.

In addition, three positions are being eliminated through attrition or retirement; 1.5 positions are being replaced with a lower salary; two positions will be transferred to the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services; approximately $114,000 of stipends will be eliminated; and approximately $274,000 will be realized in savings through the elimination of programs such as Learn to Lead, the after-school 3-5 Recovery Plan and the high school’s Educational Support Center.

With the loss of the Delta School of Choice and the elimination of programs such as the 3-5 Recovery Plan, those at Monday’s meeting suggested more students who need the help would not be able to adequately receive it.

“All of those students will be in those classrooms without enough support,” Ms. Covell said.

Using more of the fund balance would eliminate some of those issues, they said.

“The issue is, we’ve heard we have a larger fund balance than anyone around,” Randy Freiman noted. “They’re choosing not to use all of it. The state says they can release the funds. They’re making a conscious decision to make these cuts.”

Attendees noted, for instance, that the neighboring districts of Norwood-Norfolk and St. Lawrence Central have smaller fund balances, but they’ve been able to adopt a budget without any cuts. One position, a math teacher, will be eliminated through attrition at St. Lawrence Central when a math teacher retires at the end of the current school year, and her post will not be filled.

“I think if we can really dig into it, there’s a lot more in the fund balance than is being reported,” meeting organizer Robin M. Wolpin said.

As part of their effort, the group plans to begin a petition that will be turned in to the board of education during their May 14 meeting, asking for more use of the fund balance. One site where a petition will be available to sign is Boutot Auto Sales, East Orvis Street.

They hope that will “put pressure on them to use more fund balance.”

They said they also plan to vote yes on the budget while promoting the use of more fund balance. Superintendent Roger B. Clough II has warned that if the budget fails, the board of education has three options: to put the same budget up for revote, put an amended budget up for revote or go directly to a contingency budget, which would likely mean more cuts than have already been made.

Voters had last rejected the budget in 2011 and the board of education opted to go directly to a contingency budget.

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