Before receiving more distressing news about the school budget, members of the Eldred Central School District’s (ECS) Board of Education received a special gift of music at their meeting on November 10. The spirited performance by ECS’s own “Key Elements,” an a cappella group comprised of students in grades 8-12, brought smiles all around, despite the fact that the music program may be one of those facing cuts in upcoming months.
The board heard the presentation “Contemporary A Capella in the Choral Classroom” by Justin Glodich, K-12 choral director in the ECS district and director of Key Elements. Glodich detailed some of the positive effects of contemporary a capella, including improved aural awareness, increased student participation in choral programs, accelerated ear training and sight-singing skills. Glodich also discussed vocal percussion, the art of creating sounds with one’s mouth that approximate, imitate, or otherwise serve the same purpose as a percussion instrument and announced that Key Elements is preparing to record a 10-song album.
The ECS music program has entered a national contest sponsored by the television show Glee and the National Association for Music Education to compete for potential grant money. “Out of 496 videos in the country, Eldred had the 60th most votes,” said Glodich. “Within our region, 76 videos were submitted and we finished 20th so far.” The ECS video has moved on to the next round of judging and could potentially win up to $50,000.
Later, board president Doug Reiser reported that he, ECS school business administrator William Thornton and ECS superintendent Robert Dufour met with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Senator John Bonacic to “point out the anomaly that our district represents, in terms of the two percent tax cap.”
Reiser added, “I don’t know of any other school district that gave back 20% of their tax levy previous to a two-percent tax cap. Nothing was promised, but we were at least encouraged that perhaps we could work something out. The proposals included basing the tax cap on the previous year’s tax levy or allowing the ECS district to pass its budget on a majority rather than a super majority. These would go a long way in helping us work out our fiscal problems.”
Reiser also noted that the Sullivan County School Boards Association will host the Commissioner of Education at its annual meeting at Fallsburg High School on December 13. Dufour then resumed discussion of potential cuts to the budget.
“It’s like wringing blood from a stone at this point,” he began. “We cut our sports budget by 10% or $30,000. We discussed the transportation budget and will be cutting $100,000 out of that. I’ve also authorized all department heads—instructional, administration, transportation and health services—to take a 50% reduction in all material and supply budgets. That generated a savings of $57,450. We’ve targeted certain BOCES services and our distance learning program. Next year, we’ll be setting a minimum class requirement of 10 students.
“We are operating under a $16.5 million budget, and without any additional cuts and before we add in contractual obligations of approximately $300,000 to 350,000, we will be starting off in February with a budget of $15.4 million,” Dufour continued. “We’re going to make every cut conceivable short of cutting program, because cutting program means cutting staff.
“I believe that if we show the public that we’re good fiscal stewards, we have a fair chance of getting our budget passed with the super majority. If we do not get a super majority, we can put the budget out two more times.” If the first fails, additional cuts will be necessary to reduce the second. “If the second budget is defeated, we’re on a doomsday budget of $14 million, which means significant personnel cuts.” A hiring freeze is currently in place.
The district’s fund balance will also be tapped to reduce the overall budget. “Our reserves won’t last more than two years,” said Dufour. “It’s a stopgap measure. Our focus is to get the super majority and to get the budget passed on the first try.”
Reiser explained further. “We have two sources of revenue,” he said. “We get state aid and we get property tax. The governor has been consistently cutting our aid back and subsequently giving us a two percent tax cap. He’s basically short-changing both sides of our revenue source.”
“The state aid that we get from Albany is nothing more than your tax money going to us in a different manner,” added Dufour. “When they cut our state aid, they’re not necessarily reducing your taxes, they’re re-allocating the money they cut to other purposes to run the state government.” The next meeting on December 8 at George Ross Mackenzie Elementary School in Glen Spey will include the last discussion on the cuts. In February, budget workshops will begin.