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Budget decisions difficult

June 8, 2012

The intent of this article is to provide current and relevant information regarding the status of the Fonda-Fultonville School District 2012-13 budget. The second (and last) budget vote is to be held on June 19. As usual, voting will take place in the auditorium lobby between noon and 9 p.m.

The community sent a clear message when it rejected the first proposed budget on May 15. Since then, we have worked diligently to craft a new budget that significantly lowers the proposed tax levy. The defeated May 15 budget called for a 7.96 percent tax increase, while the June 19 budget calls for a 3.5 percent tax increase. Our goal was to create a budget that would preserve essential student programs and opportunities, while simultaneously lessening the fiscal burden being placed on the community.

In the last several months, the district has realized significant savings that have enabled us to reduce the tax-levy proposal. These savings include full salary freezes from all district employees for the 2012-13 school year. Significant savings will also be realized by filling the interim superintendent position internally and by not filling the vacant buildings and grounds superintendent position. The revised budget eliminates 10 full-time teaching positions, 15 non-instructional positions and nearly all modified sports. The Board of Education has made these difficult decisions in an effort to preserve crucial student programs.

If the budget is passed on June 19, all varsity and JV sports teams will be preserved, our K-12 music and art programs will remain intact, and most of our College in the High School and Project Lead The Way technology courses will be offered.

The academic impact of staff reductions will include a significant increase in class sizes in K-12, the loss of the elementary science program, significant reductions in foreign language and business course offerings at the middle and high school levels, and a reduction in course offerings across the curriculum at the high school level.

Educating and supervising children is a labor-intensive endeavor. With salary and benefits comprising nearly 65 percent of operating costs, decreasing the number of employees is the only sure way to effectively lower the proposed tax levy to a level that is palatable to district residents. As indicated, the newest 2012-13 budget reduces 25 positions.

These reductions include 10 full-time teaching positions (five of which are retirements), 10 student-support positions, two clerical positions, two custodial/maintenance positions and one managerial position (of whom six of those are also retirements). It is important to note that some of these retirements were not planned, but were a direct result of program elimination. These reductions, combined with other staff cuts over the last four years, bring the total number of employees reduced since 2006-07 to 49.5.

In 2006-07, the district employed 219 people, including 134 teachers. If the budget passes on June 19, we will have 169.5 employees, 112 of whom are teachers. While the need to downsize is obvious for fiscal reasons, 22.6 percent fewer employees (16.4 percent less teaching positions) in a five year span represents significant and alarming reductions. Student population fell 4 percent during that same time period.

Although we have been eliminating staff over the last few years, Fonda-Fultonville continues to flourish as a school district. We have been the highest-ranked school district in the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services for years, and have been ranked in the top 25 (out of 96 schools) of the Capital District Business Review for the past three years.

Our current ranking of 18th is the highest we have ever achieved. We received the national honor of being named a Blue Ribbon Elementary School in 2009, and the Fonda-Fultonville High School 2010 graduation cohort reached the milestone of a 90 percent four-year graduation rate. In 2010, Fonda-Fultonville also had the highest Aspirational Performance Measure in the BOCES at 60 percent. This measurement, previously known as the college readiness rate, is measured by the number of students who achieve a 75 percent or higher on the English regents and 80 percent or higher on a math regents.

In addition to these accomplishments, our athletic and music programs have achieved tremendous successes. These programs are regionally renowned for their quality of commitment, performance and character. Fonda-Fultonville is universally recognized as a quality school district, and has been for a long time. However, it is important to acknowledge the strain staff reductions will inevitably place on our ability to maintain these types of successes.

The lack of funding from the state and the general weakness of our nation's economy is no fault of our students. The proposed budget is far from ideal, but it represents our best attempt to slightly alleviate the devastating blow our district is already facing. If this budget is defeated, the district must find an additional $315,000 in cuts. Those eliminations would have to come from non-mandated programs such as interscholastic athletics, enrichment courses, elementary art, music and kindergarten.

Hopefully, this information will help dispel misconceptions that may exist in the community regarding the budget. Community members with questions or concerns are encouraged to attend the community budget forum to be held on Monday in the district multipurpose room at 6:30 p.m.

David Halloran, a guest columnist, is the principal of Fonda-Fultonville High School.



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