Voters approve small school-tax increase

B y Derek Liebig

Voters in the Whitehall Central School District overwhelmingly passed the 2011-12 budget earlier this week.

Tuesday’s final tally saw 175 residents of the school district vote in favor of the budget, while 58 residents voted against the spending plan.

Voters also returned incumbents Virginia Rivette and George Armstrong to the Board of Education. Both were running unopposed and their terms were set to expire at the end of the month.

Rivette who serves as vice president of the board received a total of 192 votes and Armstrong had 209.

They were elected to five year terms.

Rivette returns to the board for her third consecutive term while Armstrong return for his second straight term.

The Board of Education presented voters with a $13,463,087 spending plan that represents a $277,000 or 2.1 percent increase over last year’s budget, and calls for a 1.89 percent increase in the tax levy.

The 1.89 percent increase is expected to generate an additional $91,148 in revenue for the district.

The increase is the first in three years and the district’s average increase over the last five years is .16 percent.

“With everything we’ve been through and all the cuts we had to make, I’m very happy it passed,” school board president Mark Deluca said. “I think the people did a good job and I would like to thank the administration for the work they’ve done.”

“There were a lot of difficult decisions that had to be made. An average increase of .16 over the last five years is amazing” Rivette said. “Next year will be more difficult.”

The increase in the budget was necessitated because of education cuts at the state and federal level.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget resulted in $750,000 of lost aid for the district, and when combined with cutbacks at the federal level, left Whitehall with a $1.2 million shortfall.

In order to cover the cuts in aid, district officials had to utilize approximately $555,000 from the employee benefit reserve fund.

Despite the availability of those funds, officials were still left the unenviable task of making additional cuts to reach their targeted 2.1 percent increase.

The school will cut the equivalent of six full time positions, including a full time English teacher, a full time Social Studies teacher, an Art teacher who worked 40 percent of full time and a 60 percent business teacher.

Although those positions have been eliminated, no teachers are expected to lose their jobs. Instead, officials were able to eliminate those positions through retirements and restructuring.

Those positions would have likely been eliminated even if funding hadn’t been cut because of declining enrollment in the district.

Last year’s budget listed enrollment at 819 while next year’s has been set at 777, more than a 5 percent drop in a single year.

Additional cuts were made in transportation costs, health and vision insurance costs, building operation costs, and a reduction in salaries.

Elsewhere, voters in Granville approved the district’s spending plan that called for a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy and a $170,000 decrease in spending. Fort Ann and Hartford’s budgets, both of which called for a decrease in spending ($741,000 in the case of Fort Ann) and no change in the tax rate, passed as well.

Putnam’s budget passed as well.

Ticonderoga’s budget which called for a $980,000 increase in spending and a 4.89 increase in taxes failed to pass.

Cambridge was the only district in Washington County whose budget did not pass.

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