The state budget we're currently living under crunched the Tupper Lake Central School District harder than any other around these parts. The state aid formula was unfairly harsh to Tupper last year, and the result was both a major tax hike and cuts that bit into the meat and bones of education, not just the fat.
A quarter of the instructional positions were dropped, class sizes rose, educational offerings were lost, each teacher chipped in about $1,000 on his or her health insurance, and school taxes still rose by 7.9 percent.
It was painful, but there was little protest from the community, which more or less sucked it up and dealt with it. The only parent who spoke at last May's budget hearing bemoaned the community's silence; she said it came from apathy. There's probably a fair share of that, but on the other hand, there could be an equal or greater measure of a plain old sense of community - trust that local leaders know we're all in this together and are doing their best to be fair and wise in a tough situation. If that sounds quaint, well, maybe it is. It's a small town.
Now a new governor's budget proposal for next year would again hit Tupper Lake harder than its neighbors. While there are school districts that would lose a bigger percentage of their aid, Tupper would lose more of its bottom line more because it relies more on state aid than its Tri-Lakes neighbors. The governor's cut would zap $820,000, about 5 percent of Tupper Lake schools' general fund.
At Monday's school board meeting, the big question was, can we afford to lay off more teachers? So far, the general answer seems to be no; this was driven home by teacher Kate Bennett, who said the teachers' union wants to work with the district to make sure students come first when it comes to cuts. Although the statement was a little vague, generally that kind of thing means teachers might rather cut their own compensation than their numbers - an admirably selfless decision.
This school budget will be a major challenge for the community, but on the bright side, major players are getting off to a good, early start by declaring in mid-February that students are their first priority. Teachers publicly came to the table three months earlier than they did last year, and in a spirit of cooperation rather than defensiveness. In turn, board members and administrators said they value the faculty and don't want it reduced.
Tupper Lake cuts for current school year
BY THE #S
21 teaching positions
9 teaching assistants
7% cut to athletics
0% administrator raises
$1,000 annual hike for faculty health insurance contributions
WHAT IT MEANT
Bigger classes at L.P. Quinn Elementary School
No more elementary library staff for L.P. Quinn
No more elementary music teacher
Art, music, home/careers electives limited
Early intervention limited
Special education services reduced
Extension of core subject areas limited
Summer school reduced for middle-high school
GED services eliminated
Driver education eliminated
But if faculty concessions aren't enough by themselves, what else is there? Pensions? Not likely. Administrator pay and benefits? As the highest-paid employees, they might want to be ready to give something up, even if it doesn't reduce the overall budget much.
Taxpayers should also expect to give some more, for the sake of the community's future.
That goes for other Tri-Lakes school districts, too.