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Budget aims to return Fonda-Fultonville district to firm footing

Tuesday, May 7, 2013
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— Fonda-Fultonville’s proposed 2013-14 school budget marks the end of a year of near-constant cuts and financial distress.

The $24.4 million proposed budget is set for a public vote May 21. If it passes, interim Superintendent Raymond Colucciello said the district will be solvent for the first time in years.

“It’s a budget the district can afford and gives the students what they need,” he said. “It strikes that crucial balance.”

District Treasurer Carey Shultz, who drafted the budget, described his plan for the coming school year as pretty straightforward, with no major cuts to the district’s remaining extracurricular programs and a moderate below-the-cap tax levy increase. He’s confident it will gain voter approval, but last year at this time he wasn’t so calm.

“We brought an almost 8 percent tax levy increase to voters last year,” he said. “No one had seen anything like it in our district before.”

The big tax increase was voted down, sending the district into a spiral of budget revisions, a half-million dollars in midyear cuts and parental protests. It wasn’t a great year for Fonda-Fulltonville.

In the midst of it all, Colucciello stepped in with 53 years of experience behind him to help fix the district’s problems.

“Things have settled down since then,” Shultz said.

The painful midyear cuts made crafting a balanced 2013-14 budget a relatively simple task. Colucciello said school staff and the community at large stepped up in a big way since he took the reins in December.

Coaches coached for free and the booster club raised $40,000 for modified sports. Teachers gave up raises, and they’ll do it all again next year.

“We went through every single program looking for waste,” Colucciello said. “We left no stone unturned.”

The result was a district with a few missing employees and some financial stability.

“We’re losing a few positions through retirement,” Shultz said, “but we didn’t actually have to cut anything for this new budget.”

State aid will also increase by more than $1 million in 2013-14, which not only allows the district to keep up with rising health benefit costs and avoid major staff cuts but will fund three new programs.

When students return to class at the end of the summer, a few STEM classes will be offered in the elementary school, Mandarin Chinese courses in the middle school and nanotechnology classes in the high school.

“These are just the seeds of new programs,” Colucciello said, “but it’s the first time we’ve added anything in three years.”

If approved, the new budget will increase the tax levy by 4.5 percent, which falls well below the state-imposed cap. Without taking equalization rates and municipal boundaries into account, the owner of an average $100,000 home in the district will pay about $75 more in taxes over the coming year, according to Shultz.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Monday in the high school multipurpose room, with the vote taking place May 21.

Also May 21, voters will elect two members to the Board of Education. Matt Sullivan is running for another term on the seven-member board. Sitting board President Linda Wszolek is not running, according to school officials. Her seat will be filled by a write-in candidate.

 
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