For three years the General Brown School District Board of Trustees has depleted its fund balance rather than make tough budget cuts recommended by its staff, according to outgoing Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr.
Mr. Vigliotti, who will soon become superintendent of the St. Lawrence Central School District, Brasher Falls, made the comment during a conversation with the school district's attorney, Dennis O'Hara. The entire conversation was left as a voice mail to a Times reporter who had been calling Mr. Vigliotti for comments on the district's upcoming budget and how many jobs might be eliminated.
A portion of the conversation follows:
“...Budget woes here as we do every year... the board against my recommendation for the last three years has depleted our unappropriated fund balance and the rubber is hitting the proverbial road and they don't know what to do about it... and the answer is you cut because you've put it off and put if off against recommendations from business officials and the superintendent. Now, ladies and gentlemen, you've got to own it.”
“...We have a budget link and we informed staff today so there's a just a ton of stuff going on here for potential people that are getting laid off. But, both the paper is hounding me and I've got one other private citizen that's hounding me that they want a list of all the people's names of the upcoming layoffs ...teachers, custodians, bus drivers, administrators, etc., and I am very hesitant to put that forward because ultimately, you know, it's the board's spending plan and until they act on that ...I mean this is a work document, an internal work document that we have.”
“So if you think we're relatively safe in just saying it's an inter-agency's work document and... until such a time as the board finalizes... I'm not at liberty to release it.”
“...Yeah... Why upset people when they don't need to be upset first of all, and second of all, you know we communicated with them today, all day long we've been doing this. It's a great day here at General Brown to let them know that, you know, this could potentially happen. Some districts don't even meet with people, they send them a letter, so I mean we went above and beyond that to actually sit down with folks and explain things.”
Informed that he had sent the voice mail to the Times, Mr. Vigliotti and his personal attorney, James Evans, called the Times requesting the comments not be published. Times Editor and Co-Publisher John B. Johnson Jr. said the comments were provided to the Times by Mr. Vigliotti and their publication would give General Brown residents insight into the district's financial problems.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, reviewed a transcript of the conversation Monday and said the Times is legally allowed to publish information that it is freely given by a public official, and that the manner in which it was received — a voice mail recording — violates no state laws.
Bob Gorman, managing editor