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Ogdensburg facing difficult fiscal situation

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The City School District is looking at a difficult budget season in the wake of last week’s budget proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

By the end of the 2012-2013 school year in June Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said roughly 60 positions will have been lost in the district, mostly to attrition, but some thanks to outright cuts.

This year alone will see nine positions lost to attrition and Mr. Vernsey said he will not recommend filling them.

“We really are running out of places to go,” Mr. Vernsey said, noting that personnel costs account for roughly 70 percent of the budget.

In Mr. Cuomo’s budget proposal, Ogdensburg will only see a $225,996, or 1.15 percent, increase in state aid, a figure that will not cover the rise of pension and health insurance costs.

Jeffrey R. Swanson, Ogdensburg City School District business manager, said the school is looking at pension and health insurance cost increases of more than one million dollars this year. The school is also facing a dwindling fund balance. At the beginning of the 2012-2013 fiscal year the school had a fund balance of $4.2 million. Today the balance stands at roughly $2.3 million.

“We’ve got to keep on advocating for ourselves,” Mr. Vernsey said. He believes the only solution to the budget crisis wreaking havoc on poor districts across New York is state aid explicitly targeted to needy schools.

In particular, Mr. Cuomo’s proposal included a $203 million “fiscal stabilization fund” without yet specifying how the money will be divvied up.

Mr. Vernsey said the money should be given to schools like Ogdensburg.

But he isn’t hopeful about the prospects of something like that happening.

Mr. Vernsey said he expects Mr. Cuomo will let the legislature work out how it wants to spend the fiscal stabilization fund.

Mr. Vernsey said it’s likely the legislature will use the money to further reduce the amount of school aid they distribute through the gap elimination adjustment.

“I would like to think they will really think about this and drive that money to the poor districts of the state,” Mr. Vernsey said. “But that has not been the case in recent memory.”

Mr. Vernsey also said he is “95 percent certain” he will recommend closing Sherman Elementary School one year ahead of schedule this summer. Savings are expected to total about $100,000 – a number Mr. Vernsey will verify more accurately at the February 4 meeting.

Even savings of $100,000 is roughly equivalent to two teaching positions, noted Mr. Vernsey.

“I’m hopeful [the state finds] more money, because if they don’t, at some point and time they’re going to be leaving an entire generation of kids behind,” Mr. Vernsey said.

The state Legislature will be reviewing Mr. Cuomo’s budget proposal over the coming weeks and a final budget is due April 1.

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