KINDERHOOK — The Ichabod Crane school district has been holding budget forums twice a month since January, focusing on the budgets for different departments and on possible cuts. So far, at least one of the goals of for the forums has been met: public involvement in the budget process. Hundreds of people — parents, students, alumni and community members — have turned out to voice opinions and plead for specific programs.
Interim schools Superintendent Lee Bordick said in an interview with The Columbia Paper February 17 that the board will be making decisions about what to cut in the coming weeks so that the district will have a proposed budget to adopt in mid-April. District residents will vote on that proposal Tuesday, May 17.
At the next forum Tuesday, March 15 Mr. Bordick said school officials should have some numbers to show the public. The district is dealing with a $3-million deficit that Mr. Bordick said may increase. The shortfall comes from the loss of federal economic stimulus money and state aid, which is being cut even more than the district originally planned for. And even as the district faces cuts in aid, employee benefit costs have increased.
The forums have looked at closing the two elementary schools, looking at the enrollment numbers for language, the arts, technology and physical education classes, cutting transportation to students who live within two miles of school and the budgets of the athletic and extra-curricular programs.
Mr. Bordick, who took the job of superintendent after James Dexter resigned last spring to take another position and will stay in the job as the district searches for a new leader, said the forums have been very successful. People attending the meetings have been understanding about the district’s financial crisis, he said. “We’re not waiting to the end of the budget cycle,” he said of reaching out to community members now. He said of the school board members who attend the forums, “They have been disciplined to truly listen and take [it] in.”
As for creating the budget, he said school officials have been waiting for two important pieces — special education and operation and maintenance costs. He said that the district will look at how many children it sends out of the district for special education, noting that 38% of the district’s transportation budget is spent on special education transportation. If services are available closer to the district using them would reduce transportation costs, he said.
Mr. Bordick said the last forum addressed the potential savings that would result from no longer transporting about 500 students who live within a two-mile radius of school or by moving to a so-called one-bell busing system, with all grades arriving at and departing from school at the same time. He said the one-bell approach would not work for next year because the needs do not match the current bus fleet. But he said that closing both elementary schools and limiting bus transportation to students who lived further than two miles from the campus could save the district around $135,000.
The district will now begin a formal research process on the issues involved in closing both the Martin H. Glynn Elementary School in Valatie and Martin Van Buren Elementary School in the Village of Kinderhook. School officials are considering possible tenants for those brick buildings, and at previous board meetings there was speculation that the villages, the Town of Kinderhook and Questar III Boces might be interested in using the schools, though there was no suggestion that anyone has approached the board about those sites.
Also the board will look at class sizes and enrollment in certain courses to determine whether or not they will be cut. Class sizes in mandated courses and in elementary school classrooms are alost certain to increase. Kindergarten through fourth would move to the primary school building if the elementary schools are closed, and fifth grade would move middle school. That would mean a cut in one administrator’s position. Also, full-day kindergarten could be cut to a half day.
Mr. Bordick praised the staff at Ichabod Crane for all their hard work and understanding, even though district employees know cuts are coming in all departments.
He had not so kind words for the state leadership and specifically Governor Cuomo’s comments about districts using reserve funds to cover budget gaps created by the proposed 15% cut in state aid. “It’s foolish for our leadership to talk about using one-shot reserves” to pay for regular budget items, said Mr. Bordick. He and other superintendents in the county have reached out to state senators and assemblymen to talk about aid, unfunded mandates and the proposal for a property tax cap.
The next regular school board meeting will be Tuesday March 1 at 7p.m. in the middle school library. The next budget forum will be Tuesday March 15 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. There is information about the forums at the district website www.ichabodcrane.org.