06.04.2012 Musings from a School Board Member No Comments

We’re putting it out there

We believe that Tully’s schools are worth it. And we believe an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens agree with us—and will prove it by coming out to support all the budget propositions on election day, May 15.

To say “It’s a tough budget year” seems almost trite, not to mention, redundant. We’ve faced year after year, after year of challenges, resulting from the economy, in general, and from the impact this has had on state finances and, thereby, state aid to education, in specific. Over the past four years, Tully has seen overall cuts in the aid we receive from New York State exceeding $2 million. That’s a two followed by six zeroes. The state has, year after year, after year, been shifting the cost of public education to the local taxpayer.

Making this even more challenging is that, for the first time ever, the state has mandated a limit that can be exceeded, but only with the approval of a “supermajority” of the voters equaling 60% of those voting. No other level of government has had to put its annual spending plan to the public for approval, which has always served as a de facto limit on the plan, and now our state’s leaders and representatives have imposed an added hurdle to schools—and schools only—to provide the services that their community will receive.

We feel the property tax levy limit is something we have to address, but we will not be held hostage to it. We feel our community deserves more than just what bureaucrats in Albany mandate as the minimum to be provided to our children.

We’ve put forward a spending plan that we believe does this.

We had to make difficult choices as to what to include and how to include it. We had to have some means to evaluate and assess relative priorities for the district, and the primary screen we used was, “What’s best for kids?” and then, “How can we ensure we’re delivering not just what we have to, but what we feel we need?” And next, “What are different ways that we can deliver this?” (This last question is still a work in progress, and one that will be asked again and again over the course of this year and in the future.)

We reiterate: people can disagree as to how we prioritized, but we felt we had to give some guidance to administration, and have some discipline and protocol to adhere to for ourselves. There’s no doubt that one could make a positive case for many things, if not everything, we left out or put in an alternate proposition. Everything we included in all the propositions has our full and unanimous support. There’s not a single line item that wasn’t seriously considered and discussed, all with the mindset of “How do we preserve the best experience we can for our community and our kids?” We’ve chosen to not go down the path of “How can we cut enough to make the levy limit?”

The board listened to the community’s questions and input at several forums, beginning in December and all the way through the development of the final budget in April. We made adjustments, based on this input.

We have a responsibility to look at the “little” and the “big” pictures, regarding both the impact on this year’s budget and the future years’. We’re facing a multi-year issue, that has virtually depleted our reserves and our ability to weather hits like we’ve experienced from the cuts to our state aid. We can only replenish reserves through building fund balance—having more-than-budgeted revenues or less-than-budgeted expenses.

On April 4, the Tully Teachers Association gave strong acknowledgment to their understanding of the seriousness of this challenge when they ratified a new three-year contract that results in significant savings for the district. That, in combination with an adjustment to our state aid, will help us reduce the levy needed this year and help us plan for next.

Now, it’s your turn. We developed these propositions to give the community the opportunity to say they support these programs—all the programs—by overriding the mandated limit, and not letting Albany politicians who don’t know our community, nor care about our kids, dictate to us what we have to offer. We reiterate our support for the overall budget, including all the propositions. We want to see them all pass with the needed “Yes” vote of 60%, so that we can continue to provide opportunities for our students and community.

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