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Watertown City School District needs more aid to close budget gap, superintendent says

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can add Watertown City School District to the list of north country schools not completely happy with his 2013-14 budget proposal.

Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said the 2.75 percent increase in state aid proposed in the executive budget may be enough to keep from cutting staff positions but not much else.

“What we’re hoping to do with that increase is avoid reducing staff,” he said. “It can still happen. That increase doesn’t close our gap. It just allows us to use less fund balance.”

He said he worried about having to cut positions next school year before he saw the $38,297,763 allocated for Watertown in the governor’s state aid proposal. The district will receive a little more than $1 million more than last year under the plan.

While creating the 2011-12 budget, the district eliminated 31 positions — including 11 teachers and 18 teacher assistants — due to budget cuts. The past year was focused on regaining some of those positions.

Mr. Fralick is not the only superintendent who has mixed feelings about the possible aid increase. Superintendents at Canton Central, St. Lawrence Central and LaFargeville Central were among those who were happy to receive more aid than last year but still worried about making ends meet.

In a previous interview, Canton Superintendent William A. Gregory said the nearly 10 percent state aid increase proposed will not get his district far.

“We are facing some challenges that are not being faced by other districts,” Mr. Gregory said. “Potentially, we could still be facing significant program and staff reductions.”

To keep Watertown city schools from facing a large budget gap, Mr. Fralick is looking to see if the number of enrolled military-dependent students could help the situation. The latest figure for military student enrollment in the district is 32 percent.

“What we’re looking for is some ability to receive more impact aid, although our boundary doesn’t fall on Fort Drum proper,” Mr. Fralick said.

However, he said such action would require federal legislation. The most federal impact aid is given to districts like Indian River Central and Carthage Central, which pull students from post housing.

He said he hopes to speak soon with U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and state legislators to see if it is possible.

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