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O-A Board of Education Addresses Misinformation on the School Budget

From the Owego Apalachin Board of Education (David Barton, president; Gene Cvik, vice president; John Crosby; Lee Dunham; Linda Frisbie; John Gatto; and, Becky Goodrich):
Much has been said and written by residents about this year’s Owego Apalachin school budget and Board of Education. We would like to clarify our positions and to correct some misinformation that has been circulating throughout our community. This is especially important considering the vote on the revised budget on June 21.
ACADEMIC AND EXTRACURRICULAR PROGRAMS: We are committed to providing all students with instruction and opportunities that enable them to reach their individual potentials and to compete successfully in today’s educational and working world. Some of these programs include Cisco Academy, A+ Certification, a pre-engineering program, dual-credit college-level courses, and our advanced placement program, as well as outstanding art and music offerings. All of these are fitting for a long-time leader in technology like OA, which proudly looks to its IBM and Lockheed base. Eighty-eight percent of our students graduate in four years, and 85 percent of our graduates go on to attend college. OA is not a “country club,” but prepares students for the economy of their future. To maintain our quality programs in these challenging times, we are making cuts as needed, across the board, working to reduce but not eliminate programs.
TAX LEVY: Despite the funding cuts we face from Albany and Washington, as well as the budget increases that result from numerous unfunded mandates (services we are required to provide, even though funding is not provided to us by the requiring agencies), we have worked to keep local tax assessments as predictable, as even, and as low as possible without negatively affecting student learning. This year’s budget has been reduced by 1.75 percent (more than $730,000), after cutting more than $2.5 million. At 1.5 percent, OA’s tax levy increase – which has been below 2 percent for the past four years – is the third lowest in the region and increases the tax on $100,000 of property value by $28.78 each year.
USE OF RESERVES AND FUND BALANCE – We have made very careful use of our reserves and fund balance (our savings) to offset state aid cuts and to minimize tax increases both last year and this year. However, our projections indicate that we will need to continue this balancing act for the next three years, and we are concerned that we may exhaust our reserves and fund balance in just two-and-a-half years. Like any family or business whose expenses continue to rise as its income declines, we are working to stay afloat as long as we can by controlling our expenses while carefully drawing down our savings.
STAFFING: Since any school is people-centered, costs related to employees are at the heart of any budget. In our efforts to control these costs, every contract settled over the past five years has included increases in staff contributions to health insurance costs, and the current teachers’ contract freezes all pay except base salary for five years. We have eliminated 46 positions for next year and we have reduced overall staff by 10 percent. We expect that trend will need to continue. However, if we are to provide a quality education to our students, we must attract, hire and retain quality staff. We can do this only if we are competitive with area schools in salary and benefits, while providing opportunities for our staff to grow and lead within our school community. We plan to continue toward these goals to the extent that we are able.
ADMINISTRATION: While we do not believe OA is overstaffed in this area, we are listening to our constituency. Our long-range plan has resulted in position cuts, use of shared services, and job consolidations in the recent past. For example, we have cut several administrative positions by sharing services through the BOCES Central Business Office (and getting BOCES aid back against those costs). We have one administrator for each function, no assistants to the assistants, and our associate superintendent is doing three jobs (Human Resources, Curriculum and Instruction, and Professional Development). The net result is that we have fewer administrators than five to 10 years ago, and this year alone, we have cut more than $300,000 from administrative costs despite the addition of administrative responsibilities in the areas of teacher evaluation and student testing requirements from Albany. While there is hope for some mandate relief from the state, today we must plan for what we know and then make the best use of our strong leadership team.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND USE OF SCHOOL FACILITIES: We believe that our taxpayers have already paid for our facilities and that the heart of our community is our schools. Many of our after-school and special activities are not paid for by taxpayers through our budget, but rather are supported voluntarily by parent-teacher organizations, booster clubs, individual class or club sales, and families. Community generosity has supported class trips, the Chem-Free Post-Prom event, Dollars for Scholars, and the OA Foundation for Excellence in Education, to name a few. Therefore, we believe that community groups and individuals should have open access to our school facilities and events as much as possible.
We on the Board of Education, as elected representatives of our community, are bound by law to provide a quality education to all students in a fiscally responsible manner. We have worked hard to balance these commitments and to form both short- and long-range plans that support a strong public school system, while being sensitive to taxpayers.
We ask that you consider the FACTS presented here as you go to the polls on Tuesday, June 21. (Polls are open noon to 9 p.m. at AES and OAMS.)

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