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Harrisville school plans teacher cuts, citing cap constraints

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HARRISVILLE — Harrisville Central School District officials plan to cut three teaching positions and reduce two others to help stay within their state-designated tax cap of 1.63 percent.

“It was not a fun year,” first-year Superintendent Robert N. Finster said.

While one elementary teacher would be cut through attrition due to a retirement, two others — high school business and math — are slated to lose their jobs. A secondary English teacher who will spend the upcoming school year as a regional teacher leader through the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services also would be replaced with a half-time teacher, and a secondary science teaching position would be reduced to three-quarter time.

“I do not like hurting kids,” Mr. Finster said. “And cuts hurt kids.”

However, district officials expect to be able to maintain programs and instruction by shifting teaching responsibilities to where they are needed most, he said.

“We have a lot of staff dually certified, so that helps,” Mr. Finster said.

The superintendent said this year’s budget discussions opened with a more than $1 million budget gap.

And while the state tax cap was touted as a 2 percent one, the formula this year — due primarily to a relatively low inflation rate — allows the Harrisville district to raise its tax levy only by 1.63 percent without having to override the cap, he said.

Although an override could have been accomplished with support of 60 percent of district voters, school officials decided to stay within the cap constraints, particularly since the state is offering taxpayer refunds to cover any tax increases in jurisdictions that stay within the cap, Mr. Finster said.

Other potential cost-cutting moves, including elimination of the choral program, were considered, but such programs ultimately were spared because of their positive benefit to students, he said.

Thanks primarily to the educational cuts and other savings seen from an administrative shift, the tentative budget would increase spending by only $1,056, to $9,525,252.

The proposed tax levy, or amount to be raised by property taxes, is set at $3,500,250, up $56,029 from $3,444,221 in 2013-14.

Exact tax rates will not be available until town tax rolls are done in August.

The tentative budget would use $441,504 from fund balance to offset taxes, down from $540,000 this year.

Overall state aid is projected to increase by $228,752, from nearly $5 million to $5.22 million.

The district is planning some needed technology upgrades, but spending increases were kept to a minimum because of the fiscal constraints, Mr. Finster said.

“We did not really put too much more in, because we can’t,” he said.

The annual budget hearing is set for 6 p.m. Monday in the auditorium, while the budget vote is slated for 1 to 8 p.m. May 20 in the cafeteria.

District residents also will be asked to authorize the purchase of two buses for up to $200,000.

Board of Education members Jan Mosher and Tennille Schmitt and six challengers — Sandy Lyn Moore, Zachary Smith, Parish Atkinson, Heidi L. McIntosh, Gary Williams and Susan Ward — are running for a pair of five-year board seats and the remaining three-year term in a seat vacated by Joseph “Chuck” Langs. The top two finishers in the eight-person field would take the five-year seats, while the third-place finisher would hold the three-year seat.

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