No easy answers for Fredonia school cuts

The Fredonia Central School District may be facing several cuts – more than $800,000 – if the district does not see the gap elimination adjustment restored by the state. The Fredonia Board of Education held a community budget forum in the high school library Thursday evening.

The total proposed budget for the upcoming school year is currently $30,086,194 but there are still a few weeks left before the finalized budget will be adopted by the board of education. Included in the budget, the district is planning to use $1.25 million in appropriated fund balance. The maximum tax levy the district can use is $15,237,163, which is $837,434 more than the proposed tax levy.

John Forbes, business administrator for the district, presented the budget as it stands presently and gave the community an opportunity to comment. Before Forbes started his budget presentation, he made a comment on the closing of Carriage House. He said the district should not see an impact in the upcoming budget, but in the future could potentially see an impact.

“First and foremost, Fredonia Central School joins the community in recognizing that this is a huge loss for our area. We know that this will impact students and families in our district, local businesses, the village of Fredonia, the town of Pomfret and ultimately the school district,” said Forbes. “From the district’s viewpoint, there should not be any direct short-term effect on the district’s tax base. As you may recall there was a tax assessment reduction settlement with the parent company last school year. Those changes are slated to run through 2014-15 and will be assumed as part of the overall assessment for the town of Pomfret.”

Forbes said if New York state increased state aid to the district, anything above $400,000 would be ideal. He also said the district could look into reducing academic programs, extracurricular programs, athletic programs, staff or BOCES services.

“We need more state aid and it needs to be greater than $400,000. That will have a huge impact on what we’re able to do and what we’re able to maintain,” Forbes said.

Many community members were in attendance and spoke out in favor of keeping music and art programs intact for students. Superintendent Paul DiFonzo agreed saying the district needs to try to maintain elective classes in order to better prepare students for the future. DiFonzo also said unfunded mandates such as APPR or implementing the Common Core has not been funded through state aid placing a burden on the district.

Resident Mary Croxton asked if the district could consolidate transportation routes. She said she has noticed some buses are not completely full when students are picked up. Forbes said the district receives about 73 percent aid on those runs so a net savings of eliminating one run would only be around $10,000.

“We have talked about combining one run … in terms of enrollment versus buses, you’re probably getting close to where that might be feasible but you’re not quite there yet,” he added.

Sen. Catharine Young’s representative Kevin Muldowney attended the meeting on behalf of Young. According to Muldowney, the state Senate has come out with a state budget that includes 40 percent of the GEA restored and the GEA to be totally eliminated within two years.

“We’re on your side. We are trying to do the best we can. It’s probably not going to be the best but hopefully we get the $400,000 (restored),” Muldowney said.

DiFonzo thanked all those who attended the meeting and in conclusion announced the next steps in the budget process. The board of education will meet on Monday, April 7 in executive session to discuss personnel if academic programs need to be cut. The board’s next regular meeting will be Tuesday, April 8 where the budget will be finalized.

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