April 5, 2012


Cortland board weighs city school cuts


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Seventh-grade chorus members practice Wednesday for a May 10 Cortland Junior-High School performance directed by chorus teacher Jennifer Rafferty. Music programs could face cuts in next year’s school budget.

Staff Reporter

The city Board of Education discussed whether it is possible to cut $1.4 million from the 2012-13 budget without losing staff or programs, during a 90-minute work session Wednesday.
Board members traded views on a number of spending areas — including the Cortland Junior-Senior High School administration, music, library and the gifted and talented program — while waiting for more solid spending projections to use for next week’s meetings.
Frank Ferraro, interim director of business services, said he would have the figures Friday, for the regular meeting on Tuesday and a possible special meeting next week.
The board has to approve a budget by April 20.
About 40 people watched the discussion, many of them teachers.
Fifteen music department boosters arrived toward the end. The cuts could include 3.6 positions, two of them in elementary music.
Possible cuts include 19 positions, laying off 11 people.
The Board of Education is trying to figure out where to cut, how much to use in reserves and how high to keep the tax levy increase, which is 3.3 percent according to the state’s tax-cap formula.
Board member Melissa Davis-Howard proposed trimming the Cortland Junior-Senior High School executive principal position back to a regular principal job and having the three principals each cover two grades in the school. She said the school is too chaotic, with students roaming the halls during classes because they are skipping class or have an open period.
Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring disagreed that the school is chaotic, and said any changes in positions would need to be done through collective bargaining.
Executive Principal Gregory Santoro was at the table with board members and other administrators. Board members said they were sorry to discuss the idea with Santoro present, but board President Joe Lyman said Santoro could withstand it, especially with rows of teachers sitting in the room whose jobs could be impacted.
“The school board is as close to democracy as it gets,” Lyman said, noting that board members encounter people in the community and hear their opinions all the time.
Davis-Howard also offered a spreadsheet that compared spending in certain budget lines the past few years, saying some lines had money that was not being spent. She asked if $93,000 was necessary for home tutors, $160,000 for “districtwide disbursement” in transportation, library and special education costs, among other spending areas.
Spring and Ferraro said they would review her findings.
Board members questioned Ferraro about certain budget lines, as they have in almost every meeting, until Lyman said the board should wait for Ferraro’s meeting data.
Spring said the board needs to talk about what its members value and how they will judge what to cut. He said some proposed cuts would lead to public outcry.
The board is discussing a 5 percent increase from this year’s $40.9 million budget, with possible reserves use of $2.1 million or $2.5 million and a possible expenditure cut of $1.3 million or $1.5 million. Those are two scenarios.
Board member Janet Griffin said Advanced Placement courses perhaps could be saved if Cortland shared some of them with Homer. She said AP biology, a new course with four students, is an example.
Griffin asked why $100,000 was budgeted for a program that helps disadvantaged students get through high school, when only three students are graduating from the program this year. Lyman said maybe the district should push for more students to be in the program instead of chopping it.
Griffin also said she does not want to cut the gifted and talented teacher — another proposal — or elementary music, saying two teachers being eliminated would mean a 56 percent reduction in how much music instruction the elementary students receive.
Board member John Natoli at one point started to ask the teachers if they would choose a contract option from those offered by the district. The Cortland United Teachers has not had a contract since June 30, 2010, and has been in mediation with the district since last fall, when the district declared an impasse.
Spring stopped him, saying such a question bypasses the negotiators appointed by the union, district and state.
Spring said chopping any position in the district will impact other positions. He said staff are already doing more than they did six years ago, and any cut will add more work to someone’s job.
Griffin said the state would help by removing its mandates. Lyman said Spring had developed a list of mandates that could go, after being challenged by state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) during a lobbying day in Albany.
But Spring said every mandate has a purpose and a group of supporters.
Griffin asked for numbers of students in co-curricular activities, where $5,000 may be cut. Natoli asked for details on athletic expenses.


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