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Voters say yes to Massena, SLC, N-N school budgets

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MASSENA - Massena Central School District voters said yes to the district’s 2013-14 budget on Tuesday by a 463-263 margin.

The $46.8 million spending plan included a proposition to purchase four full-size, 66-passenger buses at a cost not to exceed $412,883. The bus proposition was part of the budget because the district will not be financing the purchases.

In the election for one seat on the board of education with a five-year term, newcomer Lorie R. MacKenzie received 609 votes. There were also four write-ins for Roger Clough and one write-in for Charles McGrath. Ms. MacKenzie will replace Michael J. LeBire, who opted not to seek another term.

It was a year when district officials and the board of education made severe cuts to eliminate a $5.6 million gap between their revenues and expenses. The spending plan contained $2.3 million in cuts and $3.1 million in reserve fund usage and carries a 2.9 percent tax levy increase.

The Delta School of Choice was among the casualties of cuts, which called for the elimination of 29.25 full-time equivalent positions to save approximately $1.77 million. The budget eliminates or reduces to part-time the jobs of 42 people at all levels, from administration to instruction to support.

Board President John R. Boyce said the decisions weren’t easy, but they were necessary to close the gap.

“I know I did the right thing by going with it,” he said after the final tally had been announced Tuesday night. “When we decided the budget, we put more work into it. We put a lot of effort into it.”

It all boiled down to a necessity for cuts, Mr. Boyce said.

“There’s no good answers to this. It’s the definition of putting a square peg into a circular hole,” he said.

Mr. Boyce said they sought the input of everyone, from the district’s union leadership and administrators to teachers and the community, before making their decisions.

“We tried to pull together everyone we could think of as they tried to get suggestions on what could be reduced, he said.

“In reality, you can’t cut $5.6 million in one jerk. It’s too much of a shock to things,” Mr. Boyce said.

In crafting their budget, the district allocated $3.1 in unappropriated reserves, after using $4.1 million for their 2012-13 budget. “We try to balance its use with cuts and keeping the tax rates as low as we can,” he said.

Mr. Boyce said coming years may be just as difficult.

“I don’t think things are going to be rosy next year. The soft cuts, the slack are all gone. It’s stuff that’s going to hurt. We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

In Brasher Falls, St. Lawrence Central School voters approved the district’s $19.8 million budget, 183-44. It carries a 3.89 percent tax levy increase.

Voters also approved a proposition to purchase three buses at a cost not to exceed $258,000, 187-42.

In the election for two seats on the board of education with a five-year term, incumbents Bethany L. St. Hilaire received 189 votes and James K. Lattimer received 178 votes.

Superintendent Stephen M. Putman said he didn’t know what to expect going into Tuesday’s vote.

“I never try to presume anything. It has been fairly quiet. I hadn’t heard a lot,” he said.

There had been concerns at public hearings about the need for another first-grade classroom next year as average class sizes are expected to be 24 students.

“I understand that. I don’t necessarily disagree with them,” Mr. Putman said.

This year’s budget had no staff reductions after 20 cuts had been made over the past three years. One position, a math teacher, will be eliminated through attrition. Her post will not be filled after she retires at the end of the school year.

Mr. Putman said he had not discussed a possible contingency budget with school board members if the spending plan was voted down. If that had happened, he said, the tax levy increase would be zero.

“We either have to cut or use more fund balance or reserves or some combination thereof,” he said. “It doesn’t help.”

Norwood-Norfolk Central School voters also passed their district’s budget by a 213-102 margin. It carries a tax levy increase of 2.98 percent.

Voters also approved a proposition to spend up to $250,000 to purchase one 30-passenger bus and two 60-passenger buses, 213-99.

In the election for three seats on the board of education with a three-year term, incumbents Jon Hazen received 256 votes and Suzanne Fiacco received 247 votes. There were also several write-ins, with Mary Ellen Todd receiving the highest number of votes at 9. A third seat held by Stephanie Allen will be unfilled after Ms. Allen opted not to seek reelection and a third candidate did not return a petition by the deadline.

“It was a reasonably low turnout,” Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said. “Not to sound as if we’re just being optimistic about it, but I think the board and administrators worked very hard to craft a budget that maintained current programs and that used fund balance judiciously, although I think more than we would have liked to.”

Mrs. Kirnie said they appreciated the support of voters again this year.

“We were gratified the voters stepped up. We only asked for half of what would have been a tax levy limit threshold. But more than last year and thanks to the people who chose to come out to the polls, the voters are meeting us halfway,” she said.

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