District aims to balance quality education with decreased funding

B y Jaime Thomas

As pending insolvency looms, Granville School District officials are continuing to operate business as usual while trying to keep a low budget.

At a workshop Monday night, which was attended almost solely by school staff, officials discussed line by line the 2014-2015 budget expenditures.

Superintendent Mark Bessen opened the forum by explaining the challenges the district faces in the next several years between low state aid and increased operating costs.

Such factors as special education and increased energy costs cannot be controlled, for example, but can dramatically spike a budget. He said he and a few dozen other superintendents met with Sen. Betty Little and other representatives on Monday to urge Gov. Cuomo to close the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

He said the GEA mainly affects upstate schools and only brings the district into 2009 funding. In this year’s budget, he, Business Manager Cathy Somich and other department heads aimed to maintain quality education and realize cost savings without negatively impacting important programs.

“We’re also talking about savings where we’re not affecting academics in a bad way,” he said.

Competing with that is less and less state aid and a “lack of equitable distribution of state aid to high need districts.”

“That’s a big problem—schools that aren’t as desperate in need, they want their fair share too,” he said.

The upcoming year’s proposed budget is $26,041,354, which is a 3.87 percent increase from this year. Because the district is waiting on tax cap numbers from the state, officials could not project a tax levy increase.

However, they did say the maximum tax levy increase is 4.3 percent, which would equal $294,291.

Discussion throughout the workshop focused on areas with larger increases or line amounts. So far the district did not mention cutting any staff except the elimination of a custodian position. Granville will also share a maintenance staff member with Fort Ann.

The board also decided to have Somich explore the idea of using the BOCES substitute teacher registry instead of its own process; this costs $9,000 but 70 percent will be covered by aid.

As Athletic Director Steve Palmer discussed the interscholastic sports budget, Board Member Nekia Torres revisited the idea of reducing the number of all sports offerings in order to save money.

“We’re a small school, and we offer a lot. We really need to start looking at that,” she said. Both Palmer and Bessen said Granville and other area schools would look at mergers first instead of elimination.

At the end of the meeting, Bessen and Somich encouraged the community to contact state representatives to on behalf of the district. Those interested in a sample letter can call the district office at 642-1051 or visit granvillecsd.org.

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