By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY April 18, 2003 Libertys primary school will be the next victim of the budget crunch.
The Liberty Central School Board of Education approved several cuts at its Monday meeting in order to bring their proposed tax levy increase under 10 percent and that meant White Sulphur Springs Elementary School has to go.
According to Superintendent Ed Rhine, the district has been in financial straits for several years, and with New York State struggling with the worst fiscal crisis in decades, the district is getting a one-two punch to the stomach.
Its even worse for us, he said. We were on austerity last year because of our financial problems, and this is just compounding it.
The district decided to level fund the budget for 2003-04 using the figures from the current years budget and only increasing that which was absolutely necessary.
Eighty-five percent of the costs for the district are personnel salaries and benefits, Rhine said, and after Sept. 11, the cost of offering insurance has gone sky-high.
The first budget drawn up would have meant a 14 percent tax increase for the voters.
That, Rhine said, was unacceptable. The board wanted to bring that number down below the 10 percent mark, and that meant cutting almost $800,000.
The White Sulphur Springs School has been on the line since last year when teachers, students and parents showed up at board of education meetings throughout the budget preparation time to beg that the building remain open.
At that point, the building was going to be closed, children would be shifted to the Main Street Elementary School in Liberty proper, and kindergarten was going to be cut to a half-day program. Pre-K was facing complete elimination.
Instead, Rhine said, the board has decided to send the children to the Main Street school and keep kindergarten as a full-day program. Pre-K will continue running as one class, thanks to a grant. If more funding can be found through granting, another program will be added for the youngest children.
Some changes may have to be made toilets and water fountains will have to be lowered for the younger, smaller children but the new home should fit their needs, Rhine said.
The kindergarten was there before they were sent out to White Sulphur Springs, and I understand there were some complaints then that the kids shouldnt be sent out there, he noted.
Also falling victim to the budget axe are a number of program funds, two elementary teacher positions, one technology teaching spot in the high school and some funding put away for retirement benefits.
An appraisal has been done on the White Sulphur Springs building in case the district decides to sell it, but Rhine said they would prefer to find someone to lease the building for a few years to help the district earn money.
If casinos do make it to Sullivan County in the future, or other growth causes spikes in Libertys population, the district may need the extra building to house an increased enrollment.
The budget that will be up for the voters to decide upon will have about a 9 percent proposed increase to the tax levy. Rhine and the board hope to see that pass so they do not have to make further cuts.
What weve tried to do is nibble around the edges and not take too much, he said. We hope by getting it under 10 [percent], we can get it passed.
Rhine said the district is working to pay down their debt and will use next year as a rebuilding period, and hopefully the financial crisis will have passed by the time the next budget planning session begins in 2004.