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By John Addyman

   MARION (Mar 8 11) – “This is the most difficult time in my whole career in terms of politics and school business,” Schools Superintendent Kathryn Wegman told her Marion school board tonight.
   To close a $1.64 million gap between expenses and revenue, the administration has floated three scenarios to the district’s budget advisory committee -1) keep the “rainy day” fund balances where they are and make major cuts right now; 2) move about $1 million out of the fund reserves and cut $664,000 in expenses from the projected 2011-12 budget; 3) use the fund reserves to the extent needed and make few cuts.

   Director of Finance Jake Reimer provided spreadsheets of where the district would be at the end of three years, looking at each of the three scenarios.
· Using all the reserve funds quickly would cause a $1.4 million deficit in the 2012-13 school year, and $3.2 million the year after when the district could face dire financial straits.
· Making major cuts would hold the line on expenses, “but the effect this would have on the schools would be absolutely devastating,” said Reimer. “There would be pretty much nothing left other than the core standards the state requires.”
· The middle option, of using some fund reserves each year, making $664,000 in cuts and using a possible 3% increase in real estate taxes would keep most programs in existence for two years, but the Governor’s limit of a 2% tax increase in 2013-14 could create a $1.5 million deficit in that year.
“We’ve got to use the reserves and we’ve got to make reductions in our expenditures,”
Wegman told the board. “You have reserves for a rainy day – and it’s raining.”
   Board members wanted more specifics in terms of real-dollar savings for programs being considered for cuts.
   Wegman said if the second option is pursued (using fund reserves and making cuts), $580,000 in reductions will be realized through retirements, reassignments and slicing some non-mandated programs. Summer programs would be reduced $73,000, athletics would take a 15% hit ($30,000), and some extra-curricular activities would disappear ($11,400). The superintendent said she would be talking to people whose jobs might be at risk if the board goes in that direction. She said another $64,000 in cuts is being sought.
   The administration has been active in seeking ways to save money. Wegman is attending an exploratory meeting on Wednesday with administrators from Williamson and Wayne Central, to discuss sending the three districts’ high school students to a united program in one building, probably in Wayne.
   “I want our kids to have the same opportunities the kids in Brighton and Pittsford have,” said Wegman, noting that combining programs and faculties for the three high schools could open up a lot of possibilities.
   And more ideas are being discussed. “We’re thinking about these – we’re not proposing them yet,” said Wegman:  a restructuring in Marion that would put the sixth and perhaps the fifth grades in the junior/senior high school, allowing the third floor of the elementary school to be closed off; a single bus run for all students (instead of a primary and secondary runs) that should save at least $25,000; on the table for possible cuts are the marching band (a $20,000 savings) and the ski club ($6,300).
   Something the board adopted, for the study stage, was a BOCES Academic Satellite Program where Marion would host a “21st Century Technology” program that other schools would send students to.
   “What kind of listening mechanism do we have to hear from the public” asked Board Member Steve Matteson. “We need to shoot straight with the public. Everything is on the table (for cuts) and the public needs to know it right now.” Another meeting with the advisory committee was scheduled for Thursday night at 6 p.m.
   Board Member Bob Estochen said he felt the “volunteering spirit” in the community would come to the fore and provide unpaid coaches for sports that might be cut. He also asked, “What about a wage freeze for employees?” Wegman said the freeze was also being considered, but was a subject for executive session.
   Reimer pointed out that the new realities of state funding will also require a different philosophy in buying school buses – they cannot be replaced with 90% state funding until they have been in service for 10 years and accumulated 125,000 road miles. That means Marion will keep buses longer, repair them longer, and may have to get mechanics certified for new levels of repair.
   Estochen worried that “it’s clear we’re going to be offering less to kids, not more. That’s not going to help in attracting more families to move in.” He said that the district’s “independence comes at a cost.” He and Wegman noted that merging with other districts to form a regional high school would give Marion “independence through the eighth grade…then we’ll have to sacrifice after that.”
   Wegman and Reimer went to lengths to point out that upstate, small, rural school districts have gotten the short end of the stick in the new governor’s funding plans. Reimer said he went to a meeting with State Sen. Mike Nozzolio (R-54th) that discussed the funding cuts and was shocked to hear Nozzolio say “there isn’t an inequity” in the way funds were chopped.
   The average loss in per-pupil state aid in Wayne County under the governor’s proposal is $1,456 for next year; in Marion, it’s $1,872. Wegman displayed a chart showing that a wealthy downstate district with a $20 million budget would have to raise taxes 1.4% to offset the state aid cuts; Marion is looking at something in excess of 7.5%.
   Reimer told the board, “The effect of real dollars being taken away from school districts is very great. These cuts are hurting the small rural school districts much more than anyone else.”


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