Community feedback forums completed, three options deemed viable
Tough choices are ahead for Schalmont Central School District and there is no easy solution in the district’s effort to cut expenses, with school closures becoming an option.
Residents of the Schalmont District expressed varying opinions in the several community forums held to get public input on an efficiency study completed by Advisory Solutions, a consultant group created by the New York State School Boards Association. Out of the scenarios provided by the study, A to `F,` the community decided three of the solutions were viable to achieve true and meaningful savings.
`There is a general consensus that the taxes are too high and that the district needs to continue to try to find efficient ways to provide programs there was certainly different points of view on how we might do that,` said Superintendent Valerie Kelsey. `The community has been wonderful sharing the benefits and negatives of different scenarios.`
Scenarios D, E and F were all considered to be viable, but each option also entails the closing of one or both of the district’s smaller schools, which are Mariaville and Woestina. The selected option will be announced at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 14, at the Schalmont Middle School.
`We went through a lot of meetings with the community, and I am encouraged based upon the turnout at our community forums, how informed people are or have been or how much information they had gathered,` said Kevin Thompson, president of the BOE. `I think a lot of people realize something needs to change within our district, because the impact of a potential high tax rate does not seem to have a large support from residents.`
While Thompson said the board hasn’t selected an option yet, closing a school would only be a part of the overall plan moving forward with next year’s budget. The board is waiting to make a final decision until Gov. Andrew Cuomo releases his budget, which is estimated to be revealed in the coming weeks.
`We are waiting for the governor’s budget, and the Board of Education’s plan is still to make the decision after we hear the governor’s recommended budget,` said Kelsey. `This is a very difficult fiscal situation; we have a lot of unknowns. We don’t know if we are going to have a tax cap, what mandates are funded and not funded substantial decreases in state aid, so we need to put the total picture together.`
If Cuomo does include a tax cap of 2 percent, said Kelsey, the community consensus was to make sure programs would continue to be offered at the high school level to enable students to be prepared for college and workforce.
Thompson said he doesn’t expect for state aid to do anything more than remain flat, which, with rising costs, creates a concern for the financial planning.
`We will just have to wait, and, hopefully, in the coming weeks something will be released from the state to give us some more information to work off of,` said Thompson.
In order to keep all schools in the district open with the current programming, assuming state aid stays flat, there would need to be a 7 to 8 percent tax increase, he said, which his something the `community can’t afford.`
`I understand people are passionate about it and it is not falling on deaf ears,` he said. `This is one of the most significant issues that we are facing since my five years on the board. It can’t be minimized at all.“