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Eden School District concerned possible ‘fiscal cliff’ would have a negative impact

The impending fiscal cliff that’s threatening higher tax rates for most Americans would also be devastating to Eden Central School District. Even without a loss of federal aid, the district’s board of education told the public that it needs to find solutions to reduce operating costs during a board meeting Monday, Dec. 10.

At the meeting Lisa Almasi, the district’s finance director, conducted a presentation that showed the board what the Eden Central School District can expect if Congress allows the country to go over the fiscal cliff. If a compromise needed to avoid the cliff doesn’t happen by Jan. 1, the district stands to lose $641,586 in federal aid, or the equivalent of about seven full time teaching positions and about 4.5 full time support staff positions. The biggest cuts involve Section 611 and Title I funding. Eden would lose $295,235 in Section 611 funding, which aids special education programs, and $143,035 in Title I funding, granted to school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

After consulting with Questar BOCES, an educational services cooperative offering administrative support to the district, Almasi said that she expected grant funding to remain intact through the 2012-13 school year, even if the fiscal cliff is reached. Grant funding would be either reduced or eliminated before the 2013-14 school year, however. Preliminary options discussed to address fiscal cliff shortfalls included the elimination of all federally funded educational programs or attaching all lost aid to the general fund, which would increase the district’s budget by 2.5 percent.

Budget projections for the district, even without the negative impacts of the fiscal cliff, were also bleak. In a separate revenues and expenditures presentation, the board was told that they were facing a growing gap between the district’s income and its operating costs. This year, a $619,145 deficit was able to be financed by tapping into the district’s appropriated fund balance. By next year, that deficit will grow to $507,911, even with help from the appropriated fund balance. By 2017, the unfunded deficit figure will grow to $2.9 million.

“Last year, we closed the gap without making operational changes,” said Board President Steven Cerne. “We got away with it last year, but we won’t be able to next year.” According to Cerne, major sources of revenues like property tax and state aid are fixed by outside sources, a restriction that makes cuts to expenditures the easiest way to balance this deficit. “Everything’s going to have to be looked at, looked at hard.”

In other business, the board:

• Received an update on attempts at the Grover L. Priess Elementary School to address large class sizes in the first grade. Sandy Wess-Rishel, a second grade teacher at the GLP school, told the board that Principal Loran Carter met with teachers on Nov. 21 to discuss options. They decided to approve the hiring of a new first grade teacher who would be deployed to all first grade classrooms evenly. The teacher would support different classrooms during lessons by instructing smaller student groups. According to Wess-Rishel, teacher interviews were already being conducted by Principal Carter earlier that afternoon. Wess-Rishel also recommended that the board look at the possibility of hiring a new teacher for both the kindergarten and second grade levels for the 2013-14 school year.

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