Superintendent: 'This is not a happy budget'

By Matt Porter

May 5, 2014 Updated May 5, 2014 at 11:25 PM EDT

Apalachin, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Layoffs, including teachers, are a part of Owego-Apalachin Central School District's 2014-2015 budget to close a $1.97 million deficit.

The school district must pitch its completed budget proposal to voters in the district through two budget hearings.

In the first hearing on Monday at the Apalachin Elementary School, attendees asked Owego-Apalachin Superintendent Dr. William Russell to explain the balance struck between raising property taxes and cutting school expenses.

Russell opened the meeting explaining, 'This is not a happy budget.'

Russell said the school board decided it had to make serious cuts - including 21 jobs - to bring its spending more in line with current revenue, and he said it was limited in how much it could ask taxpayers to pay to cover costs.

"We decided that we really needed to stop relying on reserves and fund balance to make up for the shortfall in state aid," Russell said.

Although state foundation aid is rising again including a 4.65 percent increase this year, Russell said the aid is still more than $1.1 million less than it was seven years ago.

The difference has led the school to rely on its reserves until now.

The school district used about $360,000 from its emergency fund this year, a decrease of 59.3 percent from last year's withdrawal.

Of the 21 job cuts, 13 are from layoffs while the others came from merging positions, retirements, or other forms of attrition.

At least two of the layoffs are teachers.

Russell hopes by making tough choices this year and bringing the school's expenses more in line with current revenue expectations, the district can avoid further cuts in the coming years.

The school board did not have help from property taxes this year because its maximum levy was set at 0.0153 percent.

If the district chose to raise the levy higher than that, the district would need 60 percent of the vote plus residents would not receive a property tax rebate check as promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for districts that stay within the limit.

"They would have been voting to not get a rebate on the tax freeze," said Russell.

There will be another public hearing at the Owego Free Academy at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday May 7.

District residents will vote Tuesday May 20, and the budget must pass by 50 percent of the vote to be enacted.