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Canton school budget adopted, middle school principal job debated

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CANTON — The owner of an average-priced Canton home will pay $73 more next year in school taxes under a 2013-14 school budget adopted Monday evening by the Canton Central Board of Education.

The $24,303,124 spending plan would increase the tax levy by 5.4 percent, the maximum allowed under the state’s tax cap. The tax rate would increase from $19.26 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $20.30.

Residents will vote May 21 on the budget, three open school board seats and a separate $12,000 spending proposition for the Canton Free Library. Even though the budget has been adopted, the official public hearing is scheduled for May 9.

Giving examples of the budget impact, School Superintendent William A. Gregory said owners of a home assessed at $100,000 who receive the Basic STAR rebate would see their school taxes increase from $1,348 to $1,421.

Those with Enhanced STAR, such as senior citizens, would see their property taxes on the same property decrease by $23 because the enhanced STAR deduction has increased from $60,100 to $63,300.

Spending would increase by $1,036,901 over this year’s $23,266,223 budget, representing a 4.46 percent increase.

Beside adopting a $24,303,124 spending plan, the majority of board members said they were in favor of filling the McKenney Middle School principal job that will become vacant when Jennifer W. Rurak’s resignation takes effect July 1. Three people, including one school board member, urged the board to consider alternatives.

Mr. Gregory prepared a written statement that strongly advocates keeping the position.

He pointed out that transitioning from a three-school to a two-school model would result in more than 700 students in one school and 600 in the other, making each of these schools larger than 10 entire districts within the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

These “huge increases” in student and faculty/staff loads, in combination with the time intensive requirements associated with Annual Professional Performance Reviews, the advent of new Common Core Curriculum, capital project planning and management and an “inevitable” increase in student disciplinary issues, would necessitate hiring at least one, if not two assistant principals, Mr. Gregory said.

He said the change doesn’t make sense from a financial perspective or an educational perspective. Also, retaining the three schools will position the district well to serve as a host school if school mergers materialize in the future.

School board member Shannon Mattice said the district should consider other options considering the fact that seventh- and eighth-graders will be moved to the high school next year while the middle school is being renovated.

“I’m requesting something that looks different. I don’t have a plan in mind, but I feel like this could be discussed a little bit further,” she said.

Christopher Prue, a middle school teacher, said 50 jobs have been lost over the past three years to budget cuts, resulting in larger class sizes and bigger workloads for teachers. He suggested the district reinstate the dean of students position instead of hiring a principal and use the savings toward staff and programming that directly benefits students.

“Financially, it makes sense to direct this money for instruction for our kids,” he said.

Board member Phillip J. Burnett Sr. and some other board members said they believed too many issues, such as discipline, would fall through the cracks without a separate middle school principal.

Mr. Gregory said at a minimum, the district should hire an interim principal for next school year.

“Should our fiscal situation remain unchanged in the future, we will have to seriously consider moving to a two-school model as part of additional cuts to program and staff, but now is not the time to consider that transformation,” he said.

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