By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- Officials of the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District say the tentative 2013-14 spending plan's mission is to restore long-term fiscal stability.
While she commended the board and the administration for its efforts in crafting what she deemed a reasonable budget, Tribes Hill resident Kathleen Georgia said she wants to believe in the plan's mission.
But uncertainty lingers.
The memory of mid-year reductions under the budget approved by voters last year hasn't diminished, Georgia told the Board of Education and administration during a sparsely-attended budget hearing Monday.
"How am I supposed to feel confident when I go to the poll, to say 'yes'?" she asked. "I don't want to be hit with any surprises next year."
The impending expiration of the district's teachers' union contract that's being negotiated was one "gray area" that Georgia pointed toward. She also noted the district still has the same self-insured health plan in place that caused $500,000 in unforseen insurance bills, and in-part necessitated the aforementioned mid-year cuts.
Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello assured Georgia the tentative $24,359,005 spending plan was crafted with a "stringent approach to expenditures," such as not budgeting for $220,000 in savings that could be realized if ongoing efforts to alter retired employee health insurance plans is successful.
District Treasurer Carey Shultz said it wasn't taken into account in case it doesn't happen. If it does, the savings would cushion the budget, he said.
Shultz and Colucciello referred to those type of measures as "safety nets." Another example used was a reduction in anticipated need for transportation services, but should that need rise, Shultz said the district issued a request for proposals in hopes of saving money on transportation costs.
Colucciello also shined a positive light on the contract negotiation talks and potential changes to the district's aforementioned insurance system.
"There hasn't been a single person at the table who hasn't said we've got to be careful with our pennies. The three [employee] units understand. They've come to the table and they believe they can help us move with the health insurance."
Penny pinching helped save nearly $500,000 for the district's fund balance, Colucciello said. He and Shultz both have to sign off on invoices before funds can be spent, Colucciello said, even if it's just a few dollars.
"The culture of spending is gone," Colucciello said. "The culture of saving has arrived."
Colucciello hopes the fund balance will reach the $750,000 mark by the end of the 2013-14 school year. No fund balance was appropriated toward the proposed budget.
The district received $600,000 in education aid under the adopted state budget, which covered an anticipated $238,000 shortfall. Some additional aid was appropriated toward $200,000 in recommended additions to the budget.
Most of that -- $132,000 worth -- will be used toward a court-ordered repayment of taxes to the Walmart Distribution Center in connection with its recently reduced property assessment.
The additions also include the restoration of one full-time and one part-time Academic Intervention Services teachers at the elementary school (vacancies created by retirements), and modified sports.
The district also opted to spend $35,000 in re-organizing its Informational Technology Department, and $45,000 on new building initiatives.
They include nanotechnology course work at the high school; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programming at the elementary school, and a Mandarin Chinese language course at the middle school that will likely be through online course work and distance learning.
The budget additionally reinstates extracurricular activities and clubs that were cut from the current budget, and a late bus so students can have transportation if they choose to stay after school.
The state-imposed tax cap formula would have allowed the district to raise the levy by about 8 percent.
The budget vote is scheduled May 21 between noon and 9 p.m.
District residents will additionally vote to elect a pair of new school board members, though only one name will appear on the ballot. The terms of Wszolek and board member Matt Sullivan will expire at the end of June.
Sullivan submitted a petition, but Wszolek opted against seeking re-election. No one else submitted petitions.
The board will see if any write-in votes are cast for the seat at the May election, but if there are none, it will have to make a determination how to address any vacancy.