Almost 50 full-time positions eliminated as district grapples with $5M budget gap

OSWEGO — The Oswego City School District is facing a series of wide-ranging and severe budget cuts this year, outlined Tuesday by Superintendent Dean Goewey to a shocked audience at the Oswego High School.

Nearly 50 full-time positions and several athletic programs — including football, girls varsity hockey and "all modified sports" — are slated to be eliminated in the proposed budget.

School officials have publically warned for months the 2016-2017 budget would contain major reductions, the result of declining revenue, increased expenses and inability to tap into reserve funding as in prior years.

"The development of this budget has been thoughtful, forward-thinking and responsible," said Goewey. "I hate these reductions. But it's time to make tough decisions. We can curl up and die or look at this as an opportunity for growth and renewal." The proposed plan, which district officials have been crafting since last year, puts the district's revenue projection at $79.5 million for the 2016-

2017 school year, down from $82.8 million last year.

The revenue gap comes largely from a $2 million reduction in PILOT payments from Exelon Corporation and last year's decision to use nearly $2.9 million in reserve funds. Goewey has adamantly stated the district's expenses would be kept strictly in line with actual cash flow.

"This is a revenue-based budget that is completely transparent," said Goewey, noting the district originally faced a $5.6 million budget short fall. "You can't get to $5.6 million without impacting kids." The majority of Goewey's presentation was spent outlining "very, very difficult but very necessary reductions" in staffing, administrative and athletic departments.

In total, 49 full-time faculty and staff positions could be eliminated through layoffs and retirement attrition.

Proposed varsity and junior varsity athletic programs that will be cut entirely include varsity and junior varsity football and cheerleading, girls varsity hockey, varsity wrestling, boys and girls indoor track, freshman basketball and girls junior varsity tennis for a total of more than $364,000 coaching salaries, officials, transportation, equipment and fees.

All modified sports will also be eliminated.

"We feel horrible about [the athletic cuts] and if we had any alternative, we wouldn't have done that," said Goewey. "We cut so deep into instructional programs, we couldn't justify not going into athletics as well." Goewey said he hoped once the district has pulled out of its fiscal "crisis," programs could potentially be brought back at the modified level to rebuild the programs.

The budget also contains $40,000 to create middle school intramural programs in soccer, volleyball, basketball and track to "allow every child to have an eight-week intramural program." "When you look at the entire budget, we cut straight across the board," said board President Kathleen Allen. "There was no area that was not touched through the cuts. It's very discouraging and disheartening, but we knew it was coming." Varsity cheerleading coach Tiffany Pauldine said she and her athletes were aware of the proposed elimination of football cheerleading and were "disappointed" but understood the situation.

"They truly do understand it's not the school's fault and budget cuts have to be made somewhere," said Pauldine. "They're definitely disappointed and they enjoy going to those games and cheering for the boys. It's a tough thing for everyone all around and we're handling it the best we can." In central office reductions, which includes administration and the operation of the district's Education Center, Goewey will take a $27,140 salary reduction, and the consolidation of his former position as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction with incoming Executive Director of Education and Personnel Brian Kavanagh will save $157,245. Two full-time clerical positions will also be eliminated.

Fifteen total full-time instructional positions are scheduled to be cut at the district's four elementary schools, including eight elementary and three physical education teachers for a total savings of $945,118.

Six full-time instructional positions at Oswego Middle School will be eliminated, saving $367,277.

Oswego High School will see the reduction of eight full-time instructional positions from departments including art, English, social studies, science, technology and language for a total of $526,730.

Stipends for team leaders and club advisors, as well as programs such as elementary intra-murals and the Bookmobile, will be eliminated. Goewey said the district was still determining which club advisors would be affected, but added "it will be most." A total of $12,000 in field trip funding has been entirely eliminated, as has $111,766 for all universal pre-kindergarten programs not fully funded by the federal government.

The district will be taking a "calculated risk" according to Goewey in cutting more than $750,000 from its health insurance budget.

Full-time support staffing will be reduced by 20 positions for a savings of $560,803. Seven library clerks will be among the positions eliminated, one from each building in the district, according to Goewey.

Goewey also addressed the district's issue with rapidly-decreasing fund balance and reserves, which have been used heavily in past years to balance the budget without sacrificing staff positions or raising taxes.

Since 2012, the district's reserves have fallen from $12.4 million to the current level of $4.9 million.

"We can't discretionarily dip into those funds anymore," said Goewey. "We've been using funds to support the budget and we can't do that anymore." A total of $28.1 million in revenue will come from the real property tax levy, which Goewey is proposing to raise by 2.5 percent, or $52.98 per $100,000 of home assessed value.

"We're reaching out to our taxpayers, and we believe the community will support a 2.5 percent increase," said Goewey.

Goewey also expressed "disappointment" at the amount of school funding the district will receive from the state as released last week at the conclusion of statewide budget negotiations. The district will receive $22.6 million in state aid, up approximately 12 percent from last year.

Board members reacted to the budget proposal with consternation, but agreed the district's hands were largely tied.

"Not one person up here is happy with this budget," said board member Samuel Tripp. "We've agonized over it for months. The last thing I want to do is put anybody out of work, but we're doing a revenue-based budget now and it's what we always should have been doing." "It's terrible," said board member Tom DeCastro. "When you think about the families that will be affected, it isn't fair the way we're treated in Albany." The school budget is up for public referendum on May 17.

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