By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District's 2013-14 budget draft presented Monday pares the anticipated shortfall to roughly a quarter million dollars, and calls for a 4.95 percent tax levy increase.
Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello warned, however, the proposal is based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal from January as the district awaits a final state budget, and does not include estimated savings from retiree health insurance changes, or final figures for skyrocketing pension contribution rates.
Colucciello said the proposal hinges on cautious optimism the district will receive additional education aid to close the remaining $238,000 gap "that could be closed in a New York moment."
He said conversations with state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, indicated concrete aid numbers could be available today.
"Without those variables, these numbers are just guesses," Colucciello said. "They are bound to change."
As it stands, the plan does not include any staff layoffs, but Colucciello said the worst-case scenario would mean the elimination of up to five employees.
Under a memorandum of agreement with the teachers union, the district has until Monday to notify staff of layoffs. Colucciello is scheduled to meet with union representatives Wednesday, and those notifications, if necessary, would be made Thursday.
"It's not that we want to cut them, not a single one, but at this point, nothing is guaranteed," he said.
Colucciello said the anticipated $750,000 shortfall was reduced to $238,000 with reductions in costs for Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, including a decrease in career technology program slots from 85 to 65, and decreases in information technology costs.
Additionally, he's recommended the district does not fill January's mid-year staffing cuts, or the four retirements accepted Monday. They include elementary teachers Joan Murray, Kathleen Bush, and Lorraine Stellato, as well as teaching assistant Claudia Lathers.
"We always accept the resignations with regret," said school board President Linda Wszolek, and Principal Thomas Ciaccio praised their work and dedication with compliments like, "If you ever want to watch a work of art, watch Mrs. Stellato teach."
Other savings will be garnered from refinancing long-term debt, restructuring of bonds, and estimated reductions in the price of diesel fuel.
Athletic Director Eric Wilson also put together a sports proposal that would maintain the majority of high school programs, but would again eliminate modified sports except the soccer program.
"Losing modified teams would be a big blow to all of our programs. This past year we were very fortunate that our booster club raised enough money to reinstate these teams. However, if we weren't able to offer a modified sports program, we could run an intramural program for each sport that could potentially increase participation in these grades," Wilson said.
The district would also lose boys and girls swimming, golf, bowling and a wintertime JV cheerleading coach.
Total, the changes in sports would save about $60,000.
Despite those reductions, the plan would reinstate stipends for extracurricular clubs and activities, which were eliminated from the current budget. High School Principal David Halloran said the proposal also reinstates the late bus so students who want to participate in after-school activities can have transportation.
The plan also calls for $60,000 in new programming to be split amongst each building. Halloran said his school is looking at some nanotechnology courses. Middle School Principal Beth Donovan said her school is looking at cultural diversity courses like foreign languages, citing Mandarin Chinese. And Ciaccio said he's looking at some Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programming.
Colucciello believes if this budget holds, it can set the district on the path to stabilization.
"We wanted to come to the board with a budget the community will support," he said, noting the district can legally raise the tax levy by 8.83 percent under the state-imposed property tax cap, "and keep what the youngsters deserve and need."
Colucciello also hopes the district's penny pinching can generate a half million to be saved in fund balance.
"I'm not recommending that it be used this year, but that's for the board to decide," he said.