SARANAC LAKE - About 15 percent of the Saranac Lake Central School District's students were absent Wednesday, many due to flu and flu-like illnesses.
Out of a total student population of about 1,445, 245 students were absent Monday, 244 Tuesday and 218 Wednesday, district Superintendent Gerald Goldman said at Wednesday evening's school board meeting.
"Hopefully it's going to trend down as we move toward the cold weather," Goldman said.
Normal attendance is between 90 and 95 percent, Goldman said, varying based on the time of year. He said staff absences are more important than student absences when it comes to deciding whether to close the school, and staff absences haven't been high enough to be a concern.
Percentage-wise, Lake Colby Elementary School, which has kindergarten and pre-K, is the hardest hit, Goldman said, with about one-third of the students absent. Aside from Lake Colby, Goldman said, the absences are fairly evenly spread among the district's schools, except at Bloomingdale Elementary, which has been the least affected.
In another bit of good news for Bloomingdale, that school's closed north wing reopened Monday, the flooring has been replaced, and classes and activities normally held there have been moved back.
Moisture testing over the summer showed a higher level than allowable for the adhesives, and the floors were sticky from adhesive that never set properly and leaked up. The tile and carpet were ripped up, and the two fifth-grade classes, normally located in the north wing, were taught in the cafeteria/gymnasium.
The district's contributions to health care and its employee retirements will increase next year, adding between $600,000 and $700,000 to the district's budget. This is on top of about $400,000 in contractually required raises.
There are two retirement systems: one for teachers, one for all other employees. The contribution to the teachers' system will decrease slightly, from 7.63 percent to 6.19 percent, but the contribution for other employees, which is between 8 and 10 percent now, could go as high as 13 percent, said district Business Executive Mike Kilroy.
Retirement contributions are set by a Board of Actuaries that is part of the state Comptroller's Office and are tied to the stock market; the increases are due to poor performance of investments.
Board members said they would work to keep increases as low as possible.
"This is a tough environment to say we're raising taxes," Goldman said. "We're mindful of that."
The board also signed a letter of intent Wednesday evening to purchase two school buses next year, contingent on voter approval of next year's budget in May 2010. One 48-passenger bus would cost $94,136.30, and one 66-passenger bus would cost $99,764.90. Changes in emissions regulations next year would add about $6,000 to the price of each bus; however, Leonard Bus Sales has agreed to sell the buses at the cheaper 2009 prices if the district signs the letter now.
Goldman said the district usually buys three school buses a year but is only buying two a year now.
"Closing Lake Clear (Elementary School) was helpful in that regard," Goldman said.
Search and interrogation
The board also reviewed its new search and interrogation policy. Goldman said the district is revising its policy to bring it in line with other districts and to make sure all possible scenarios are covered in a way that passes constitutional muster.
The review was prompted by an incident in April, when a middle-school student accidentally dropped a loaded rifle clip in a gym locker, prompting faculty to search between 15 and 20 students. The student had gone hunting the weekend before with his family and they accidentally left the clip in his backpack. Goldman said that, while everything the district did was legal, it was not in line with policy at the time.
"The old policy basically said, 'No matter what, call the police and bring them in,' and that's not practical," Goldman said. "Sometimes you have situations that demand that you act."