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Public invited to school budget discussion

Facing the likelihood of cutting up to $300,000 from next year's school budget, New York Mills school administrators and board members will discuss the financial condition of the district at a public meeting Feb. 18, 7 p.m., in the performing arts center.

The meeting, set up by Superintendent Todd Cameron, was originally scheduled for Feb. 11 but was moved to Feb. 18.

"People need to know that we're needing to make adjustments to our budget," Cameron said. "We're looking at making reductions here in the next couple months. This meeting will give people the opportunity to hear from me. We'll provide information and have a discussion."

Cameron said the administration is looking at reducing next year's budget by up to $300,000. Where to make cuts is not an easy decision to make.

Cameron believes the New York Mills school district has a long tradition of providing quality education in the community. People have supported the core values of the district like small class sizes, college courses taught in the high school, fine arts, and extracurricular activities.

"We have excellent programs and services that we all like and enjoy," Cameron commented. "We have difficult decisions to make. No decision is an easy decision."

The district does not need to make cuts this year. The reductions and adjustments the administration and board are working on are for the 2009-10 budget.

The administration plans to present a first draft of recommendations to the school board at the Feb. 23 board meeting.

Talk of a levy referendum next fall is likely to come up at the Feb. 18 meeting. The administration and school board are considering asking the taxpayers for additional money to help with next year's budget. The key questions here are, how much and for how long? The school district currently has a $200 per pupil levy referendum, which expires in 2011 and generates about $150,000 per year.

Cameron uses a $300 per pupil levy referendum as an example in illustrating how much money would be generated and how much it would cost property owners. A $300 per pupil referendum would generate $225,000 per year to the budget. This is an increase of about $75,000 over the current $200 per pupil amount. On a $100,000 house the $300 per pupil amount would cost taxpayers an additional $19 per year in taxes, according to Cameron.

If the district does decide on a levy referendum, the current $200 would be rescinded and a new amount established. For example, if the district goes to the taxpayers for a $300 per pupil levy referendum, it would not be added to the current $200.

Cameron pointed out the cost the district had in 2001 is not the same as the cost the district has today. Operational costs like fuel, and supplies and materials are up. Salaries have increased, technology has changed and the district spends more money in this area to meet the needs of the students.

A second community meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 16. The board is expected to make a decision on proposed reductions at the March 23 meeting. The school district's final 2009-10 budget must be completed and approved by the June school board meeting. By state law, the final budget has to be adopted prior to July 1.

Cameron points out the district implemented a number of budget reductions over the last three years, including last year, where secretary hours were reduced in the elementary, high school, and district offices. Money spent on materials, supplies and equipment was also reduced.

Last year, the district also considered cuts to areas like elementary science, elementary Early Intervention Reading, and custodial services. Those areas were spared when last year's final budget was approved.

Cameron said they will again have to look at everything district-wide when considering reductions in the budget. He added the administrators are building next year's budget now, with the idea of receiving zero new dollars from the state. Revenue is down this year due to declining enrollment in the district. Cameron estimates the district will be down about 25 students by the end of the school year. The district receives about $6,000 in state aid per student.