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Canton school budget calls for 5.4 percent tax hike

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CANTON — Property owners in the Canton Central School District would see their school taxes increase by an estimated 5.4 percent next school year under a proposed 2013-14 budget that eliminates three teaching positions and a bus driver job.

The proposed $24,638,124 spending plan is $1,371,901 higher than this year’s $23.3 million plan, a 5.9 percent increase.

School Superintendent William A. Gregory suggested four strategies for reducing the $2.3 million gap between revenues and expenses.

Those include increasing property taxes to the maximum level allowed by the state property tax cap and saving $335,000 by trimming four jobs. Additional funds would come from using $1.5 million from the district’s fund balance and asking the Canton Golden Bear Educational Foundation for $40,000 to fund extracurricular activities.

The jobs slated for elimination include not filling three vacancies that will be created by retirements: a high school social studies position, a librarian and a special education teacher. Eliminating one bus run through consolidations and cutting the 3:30 p.m. after-school bus trip on Tuesdays and Thursdays would allow the district to cut one bus driver job.

The cost-cutting plan would leave the district with one librarian for all three schools. Teacher aides would be hired to assist in the libraries.

During public comment at Thursday night’s meeting, two people suggested the district consider not replacing Jennifer W. Rurak, Massena, who will resign June 30 from her job as principal of McKenney Middle School. The position paid $87,358 this year.

Mrs. Rurak is leaving to take a position downstate with American Education Group, a private company that operates a network of private schools.

Keith Rosser, a community member and parent, asked school board members to consider cutting the principal job as a way to preserve teaching positions. Hiring a dean of students at a lower salary was an alternative he mentioned.

“Is there a plan to eliminate this in the budget?” Mr. Rosser asked. “It seems to me that our purpose here is for students. Teachers have a direct impact on students.”

School Board President Barbara B. Beekman responded that with only 11 days left before the board adopts a budget, there is little time to restructure the district from three principals to two.

The state’s new teacher evaluation system requires principals to evaluate each teacher three times a year and complete in-depth review forms.

Kristen Ames, co-president of the Canton Central Teachers Association, said district officials need to think about equity when they consider making cuts that affect students and faculty.

She asked the board to “give some serious consideration to replacing the middle school principal.”

Brian Kerrigan, a taxpayer and parent, asked if teacher retirement expenses were the “driving force” behind budget increases.

Mr. Gregory said the district has no control over how much it’s required to contribute to the state retirement system. All public school districts, he said, have to chip in 16.25 percent of their teacher and administrator salary expenses to the state pension system.

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