Residents fear tax hike as Goshen schools begin budget talks

School aid cut by $1.47 million: No major spending cuts proposed so far. This story was published in The Chronicle on March 3rd, 2011.

Goshen, NY – The Goshen school district faces a $1.47 million cut in state aid. But the district’s four schools proposed only $21,295 in spending cuts over last year, leaving student programs untouched but residents fearing tax hikes.

Enrollment for 2011-12 is expected to go up by 27 students.

“Are we going to take into significant account the governor’s words of a 2 percent cap, or are we just going to blow that away?” asked resident Bob Chaffee.

School board president Robert Kimiecik said the board was still listening to department heads about their needs for next year.

“We have not created a summation of all those requirements and requests for the budget at this point,” Kimiecik said. “So it’s very difficult to say if we’re going to be able to stick to the 2 percent, or whether it will be higher or lower.”

Robert Miller, the assistant superintendent for business, said it remains to be seen whether the state legislature will pass Gov. Cuomo’s budget. The governor has threatened to shut down state government if a budget is not passed in early April.

Kimiecik said it was “very likely” the district would dip into its fund balance to the tune of $800,000. That leaves a $648,705 hole in the budget. The school district has seen a $3 million drop in state aid since 2009-10.

Goshen High School Principal Robert Litz proposed cutting more than $180,000 from BOCES by eliminating slots in the occupational education and alternative high school programs. An occupational education slot costs about $10,000 per student, he said, and an alternative high school slot costs about $20,000. Litz said he still has room in the BOCES program even with his proposed cuts, but that it is “very tight.”

“It’s cutting to the very precipice of where you can go where you still have the appropriate slots to put students,” said Litz. “You’re on the cliff.”

He said he is “terrified” of an unexpected spike in enrollments at BOCES. He praised the district’s guidance staff for saving the district thousands of dollars by keeping students enrolled in conventional high school in cases where they are “on the fence” in needing alternative high school.

Litz said he has a buffer of one BOCES slot. If more were needed, he said, the district would have to get creative and find the money somewhere.

“We truly are very, very close to not funding [BOCES] with enough money in order to assure that every student is appropriately placed,” said Litz.

There is no plan to cut staff, he said, and no formal meetings on that part of the budget have yet taken place.

Last year the school board eliminated the positions of two teachers, two librarians and a reading specialist. Superintendent Dan Connor said the district’s administration costs were cut by $275,000 last year by allowing a vacant position to remain empty and by filling one administrative position through an in-house promotion. Goshen Intermediate School Principal Jason Carter said he found $14,500 in savings by reducing copy machine maintenance costs.

Goshen resident George Wile asked, “How is it possible that we’re letting go of people and at the same time handing out increases to those that remain behind?”

The board did not immediately respond.

“We’re letting go of people and giving out raises at the same time, and then we’re saying we don’t have enough money to give a quality education out,” Wile said. “But we keep on giving more and more money in raises. It defies logic.”

“The only answer I can give you to that is it’s part of the negotiation process that takes place,” said Kimiecik. “That is what was negotiated and approved on both sides.”

Later in the meeting, Wile commended the four schools for stretching their budgets, but again questioned the salary increases over budget cuts.

“Noted,” Kimiecik said, his patience visibly worn thin at the second mention of the matter.

Another audience member told the board that the public was owed an explanation into the process of recent contract negotiations between the district and the Goshen Teacher’s Association. The board said it would address his concern at their March 21 meeting.

Connor declined to say when the budget would be released, saying there was still a lot of work to do.

The district is required by state law to release the budget 45 days before the vote, which is on May 17 this year. Kimiecik said a public hearing on the budget will be held on May 3.

“Every department has held the line or cut,” said Connor. “Everybody is coming in lower than they were last year, so we’re really holding the line, all of us are.”

“We are going to try and do the best we can for the community realizing the state of affairs today,” said Kimiecik, referring to the economic slump.

Litz said the budget process is still in its early stages.

“We have not compiled the entire budget yet, so therefore we do not know where we are in terms of a percentage from budget to budget increase,” he said. “It’s a work in progress and of course when it’s absolutely complete and a percentage increase is determined, it still requires the community to support it.”

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About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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