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Saratoga school districts face tough choices

If you've lowered the heat, cut back on eating out or put off big a big purchase in the past few months, you aren't alone. Schools across the state have been getting frugal this year and plan to scale back even more next fall as they prepare to face the harsh reality of New York's budget crisis.

Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget calls for an overall 3.3 percent reduction in the amount of school aid the state hands out. Reductions to school districts will run from about 3 to 13 percent, based on the district's wealth and other factors. The governor is hoping to close a deficit expected to balloon to $50 billion over the next four years.

The news has kicked off conversations in districts across the state as school officials enter next year's budgeting process. Some are considering new and interesting ideas to pinch whatever pennies are available.

At the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District, Superintendent Jim Schultz began holding meetings with staff and faculty when the cuts were announced. Along with suggestion boxes, the district collected around 100 cost-saving ideas and recently tapped the public at a Tuesday, Jan. 20, public forum.

Our intention all along has been to continue this process with the public, said district spokeswoman Christy Multer.

Ideas include consolidating bus routes, cleaning buses and classrooms less often, cutting some modified sports teams and even turning off every other light in schools. Some, while good intentioned, may be simply impossible, said Multer.

"Ideas aren't always something we can do," she said. "Some are illegal, and some require a big up-front cost."

The district has already instituted freezes on certain discretionary spending and conference attendance and will be reviewing staff vacancies to see if it can avoid replacing some workers. Wherever possible, the thermostats have been set at a lower temperature.

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