December 31, 2008
Schools end year bracing for state aid cuts
The financial news for local schools and colleges has been so grim the past few months that it may overshadow what was otherwise a year of positives.
Enrollments swelled at SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College.
SUNY Cortland reached just under 7,100 in total enrollment while TC3 grew to 3,100.
More than 11,500 high schools seniors applied for 1,075 openings in SUNY Cortland’s freshman class, and the college enrolled 1,231. The college continued to renovate buildings and construct new ones.
TC3’s totally online course offerings grew to 132 as the college celebrated its 40th birthday.
School budgets passed on the first ballot throughout Cortland County. Schools in Homer and Cincinnatus underwent renovation, and taxpayers approved capital projects in Cortland and Dryden, although they rejected one in Marathon.
But the national economy’s collapse hit Wall Street hard in the fall, and the loss of 60,000 jobs there prompted Gov. David Paterson to chop billions from state budgets, especially funds for the State University of New York four-year campuses and aid to public schools.
Paterson first cut from the existing SUNY budget in April, then added another cut in August. The state Legislature generally backed him, sparing only community colleges.
The SUNY system lost $270 million, between early budget reductions followed by Paterson’s cuts, which the Legislature approved. By the end of the year, SUNY Cortland had lost $3 million or 5 percent of its budget.
College President Erik Bitterbaum joined other regional SUNY campus presidents in asking for a tuition increase to help them make up for the budget cuts. The SUNY trustees and Paterson said yes, raising tuition by $610 per year or 14 percent, the first tuition increase since 2003, starting in the spring 2009 semester. Paterson has proposed keeping 10 percent of the increase this spring and 20 percent in 2009-10.
The cuts arrived as a SUNY Cortland economics professor released a study showing the college’s impact on the five-county region’s economy: $278 million, growing from $150 million in spending by students and employees.
Both colleges also received their largest gifts ever. SUNY Cortland was given $1 million by alumna Lynne Park Hoffman to preserve its alumni house. Retired Cornell University professor Arthur Kuckes gave $2 million to TC3 to fund scholarships for non-traditional students.
The budget woes did not affect state money for building renovation and construction. SUNY Cortland continued to benefit from what Bitterbaum called the state’s first major investment in new construction since the Nelson Rockefeller era of the 1960s and early 1970s.
The college renovated Moffett Center to create new classrooms and constructed its new Education Building, with a childhood education center, for $17.5 million. Both buildings are expected to be ready for the spring semester.
The college also rebuilt the steps at Corey Student Union, planned an addition to Studio West and began planning a new student union.
SUNY Cortland officials, police agencies and government leaders reported a better town-gown relationship, as the college tried to teach students to see themselves more as part of the Cortland community. The city Common Council passed a nuisance party ordinance in the spring, which punishes landlords for repeated noisy off-campus parties, helping police to keep residential areas quieter.
TC3 held the first commencement ceremony in its new athletic center in May and received approval in the fall to build nine new classrooms onto the main building’s first floor.
Before the economy went sour, the Cortland city schools got voter approval in February for a $41.6 million capital project to replace heating systems in several schools, clean up the basements of two elementary schools, convert the high school athletic stadium to artificial turf and reconfigure building entrances to enhance security. The budget, which increased the tax levy by 3.6 percent, passed by only 40 votes .
The city Board of Education agreed with voter approval to help fund the Cortland Free Library, after the city withdrew support. The board approved a tax warrant in July that included $350,000 for the library.
The board re-elected Tom Brown as its president, then needed to find a new president in December as Brown quit to become county Democratic election commissioner. Lisa Hoeschele, the vice president, was chosen as president on Dec. 16.
Groton Central School received voter approval for a $3.6 million capital project to add lighting to its athletic stadium and repair heating systems.
Marathon Central School taxpayers said no in October to a $14.3 million capital project. District officials are working on a possible smaller version.
Dryden Central School named Sandra Sherwood as its new superintendent of schools. Sherwood was principal at Dryden Elementary.
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