By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District's Mid-Year Budget Cuts Committee met once again Monday night to continue its evaluation of the district's finances in an effort to find approximately $500,000 to cut from its current budget.
The committee was formed last month in the wake of news that a routine audit revealed that the district's fund balance had been significantly depleted as a result of unexpected expenses in health insurance and reductions in state building aid reimbursements.
Since the group's initial meeting last week, it had been broken down into five individual sub-committees, each tasked with researching possible cost-saving measures in a specific area: Staffing, building configuration, BOCES consolidation services, spring athletics and the pool and health insurance.
Transitioning the district's retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan was determined to be the measure likely to provide the district the most significant savings.
Fonda-Fultonville District Treasurer Cary Shultz told the committee that of the district's 210 current retirees, 160 are currently Medicare eligible.
Shultz said he had received and evaluated two proposals from insurance companies and was in the process of evaluating two others.
On average, Shultz said he believed the move could save the district approximately $167,000 from Feb. 1 through June 30 of the coming year.
Full-year savings could reach $400,000, Shultz said.
"The plans that were looked at are equal to, if not better than, what they're currently getting," Shultz said.
"You're looking at $150,000 conservatively," said Interim Superintendent Patrick Michel. "Obviously that's going to help your cuts situation here."
"One of the questions is what do you do with the other 50 who are not Medicare eligible," he added.
Michel said he was also concerned about the manner in which the proposal is presented to the district's retirees, noting that he believed it important that those effected be met with personally.
"There's a lot of info out there and a lot of questions and for this to be successful, I think it's important that we deal directly with retirees," Michel said.
The committee also briefly discussed the possibility of reconfiguring the district into a K-through-6 and 7-through-12 model. Fonda-Fultonville currently has three schools: Elementary (K-through-4), middle (5-through-8) and high school (9-through-12.)
Director of Special Programs Scott Rice said his group found that doing so would likely result in a more efficient delivery of programs, allowing the district to redistribute its staff levels in a more cost effective manner.
Such a change, Michel said, would require long-term study and planning. Any move to do so would have to be part of a long-range plan.
The staffing levels in all three of the district's schools were also discussed Monday night.
In the high school, the group looked at the possibility of reducing the number of credits required to graduate from 25 to 22, the number high school principal Dave Halloran said is generally required by most schools throughout the region.
Non-mandated programs in the middle school were also looked at, as were class sizes in the elementary.
"There's things that we have to have and there are things that we may not be able to have and you have to start thinking along those lines," said Michel.
"My job here is to ask the hard questions," he added. "We need to ask these hard questions if we're going to come up with a solution to these problems that are facing us."
Other areas on the chopping block include spring athletics and the pool. Shultz told the committee he projected cutting both would result in more than $86,000 in savings.
The committee also looked at the district's free and reduced lunch program as a means of increasing its revenue from the state.
Elementary School Principal Thomas Ciaccio said he has spoken to school officials in Fort Plain who were able to raise that district's free and reduced lunch rate by launching a campaign to enlist as many enrollees as possible.
Once a certain percentage of student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch, the district is determined to be in greater need and therefore qualifies for additional Title one funds from the state.
"I think Fort Plain has a good model," said Ciaccio.
Following the meeting, Michel said the required cuts will likely affect several aspects of the district's operations.
"It's going to be a piecemeal," said Michel. "It's not going to be one magic bullet."
The committee will meet again on Monday, Dec. 10, to finalize its recommendations to the district's Board of Education. Those recommendations will be presented and likely voted on at the board's December meeting.