KINDERHOOK — The school board hosted another auditorium full of concern parents and taxpayers at the budget forum Tuesday evening, January 25. This, the second of six forums, was about making cuts to non-mandated programs like art, music, technology, foreign languages and physical education.
Interim School Superintendent Lee Bordick opened the meeting by answering questions raised at the first forum held two weeks ago, which was about the prospect of closing the two elementary schools. Shutting down the Martin Van Buren School in the Village of Kinderhook and the Martin H. Glynn School in Valatie would save the district about $1.3 million annually, and board member John Phillips said that Questar III, the regional BOCES, has indicated an interest in leasing one of the buildings.
School officials said that the district could also institute a half-day kindergarten program, cut more positions and find more funding to achieve savings of as much as $1.9 million. The district faces a $3 million deficit in its budget due to state aid cuts and loss of federal stimulus money.
The talk at Tuesday’s meeting was trimming teaching positions for non-mandated subjects. At this point in the planning, Board of Education President Andrew Kramarchyk stressed, the board and administrators are not looking at cutting programs, just staff. Eliminating five full-time teaching positions would mean raising some class sizes. If the district does determine it must cut whole programs, officials would do so based on enrollment in those classes.
The structure of the forums calls for Mr. Bordick to discuss the issues with the audience for the first 45 minutes, then audience members are invited to ask questions and voice concerns on the topic. Several current and former students, teachers and parents expressed support of the arts programs and the importance of having a well-rounded education.
“We dearly value the arts here at Ichabod Crane,” Mr. Kramarchyk said after all the comments were made. He said the district will know more as students register for classes in the coming months. Officials are also looking at cuts they can make in the lower grades in the arts and language programs.
If the board makes such deep cuts this year, what will they cut next year, asked one audience member. Others expressed concerns about state funding and the property tax cap proposed by Governor Cuomo, which would limit the district’s ability to raise money through taxes.
Board member Regina Rose told people to write letters to their representatives in Albany. She said a letter writing campaign in 1976 did end up restoring state funds.
Many of the people who spoke talked about h how they moved to the school district because of its good reputation, though they understood the difficult decisions the board had to make in these tough economic times.
Mr. Phillips said that retaining all programs would mean a double-digit tax levy. The district normally tries to keep it the levy increase at around 3%. “If we have to fill a $3-million gap, it would mean an 18% tax levy,” he said of the increase. The governor’s proposal, which now has broad support in the legislature, calls for limiting the tax increase to just 2% annually. A tax cap bill adopted by the state Senate last week permits additional spending for capital projects approved by voters .
The next forum will be Tuesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Mr. Bordick will answer questions asked this forum and participants will discuss the Athletic Department and extracurricular activities. On February 15, the forum topic will be transportation. There is information about the forums on the district website, www.ichabodcrane.org.