Savings to be Higher than Anticipated
By Eva Potter
“With a heavy heart and a lot of anxiety on some of the board members, I think, and parts of the community, yes, we made the decision to bring all of our students here on the Cattaraugus campus and to be one school,” said Jon Peterson, superintendent of the Cattaraugus-Little Valley School District, on the closing of the Little Valley campus.
Out of a total student population of 1,054, the move will affect about 145 students in grades three, four and pre-kindergarten currently attending school in Little Valley. Since last year, students in grade five have been housed in the Cattaraugus campus’ new addition, along with kindergarten and grades one and two.
“We’ve been undergoing change ever since the district consolidated in 2000,” said Peterson, who became the district’s superintendent in 2008.
Peterson said one of the greatest benefits to housing all students in one building is “truly having an elementary school community and the way you can really utilize staff effectively.” The ability to balance class sizes, utilize targeted teaching, all teachers working together on the grade level as a team and one school start time are all pluses.
Peterson said he is working closely with Elementary Principal Carrie Yohe to ensure a smooth transition for students, parents and staff, and is in the process of setting up committees to facilitate the process.
“Our enrollment has dropped about 18 percent since the time we consolidated. At the time we consolidated and whenever the board started making plans for the facility, we never would have been able to fit everyone into this (Cattaraugus campus) building. Now, we fit no problem,” he said.
Peterson stated the district intends to retain ownership of the Little Valley building with high hopes for its use. Should the student population increase in the future, he said the district would still have the Little Valley building for potential expansion.
Transportation of students and staff also will become more efficient with this closing due to the elimination of shuttling students and faculty between campuses to get to school and to teach classes.
Peterson explained that, right now, pre-kindergarten-aged children, up to a certain age, must provide their own transportation, because most school buses are not equipped with proper child safety seats required for that age group. He said the district plans to purchase child safety seats for the buses so that pre-kindergarten students can ride buses this fall.
Savings are from staffing cuts, transportation costs, site licenses, teacher’s and classified employee concessions, and other contractual obligations contributed to achieving a balanced budget. Peterson also said the district “instituted a salary freeze for our administrative, managerial and other non-union employees.”
Six veteran teachers will retire at the end of this school year, and two of these positions will be eliminated through attrition. Two of the other four vacancies have been filled at a savings, and Peterson anticipates additional savings from the other two openings as well. One full-time teacher and three classified positions were laid off in this budget. This comes on the heels of major layoffs last year.
“A great thing that happened here in this really tough time was working together at the table, and both my classified union, upon my request, and the teacher’s union, they gave some concessions – things that were already contractually agreed upon that helped bring that budget down to where it needed to be and maintained a relatively high level of staffing,” said Peterson.
“At one time, we were actually considering five more teacher layoffs and one more classified layoff, so the concessions by our unions went a long way into maintaining personnel and maintaining programs for the kids.”
Newly reported savings due to the closing of the Little Valley campus are now reported to be a minimum of $250,000, because the district will not need to hire an additional special education teacher to meet students’ needs. The district will also save an additional $200,000 due to an unnecessary technology update, because fiber optic lines do not have to be installed in the Little Valley building to meet the 2014 New York State requirement to have all student assessments performed online. This amounts to a potential total savings of $450,000.
A sports update brings positive news. The school board has allocated more money from the fund balance and the athletic department has made changes to their requisitions, resulting in the preservation of JV sports, winter basketball cheerleading and half of the football cheerleading events. Due to low participation and high cost, the golf program has been eliminated. Also, the school’s wrestling team has merged with Pine Valley’s team in order to salvage the program.
Along with the budget vote in May, district voters will be asked to decide on Proposition 2, which will allow the purchase of new buses. According to Peterson, now is the time to purchase buses as there should be no, or nearly no, net cost to the taxpayers to replace aging buses due to the sale of used buses and after 90 percent aid reimbursement per bus.
Peterson expressed gratitude to local legislators in aiding the release of NYS competitive grant money to schools held back by the governor, resulting in $123,000 in revenue for the district.
The actual budget for the 2012-2013 school year is $23,453,485, an increase of 6.56 percent from last year. Originally, the budget shortfall was as high as $1.1 million, but the district allocated $1,205,000 from their cash surplus and $688,905 from their reserves to bridge the funding gap. This amounts to a budget that increases the tax levy by 1.99 percent. The school budget vote will take place on May 15, 2012.
The next board of education meeting will take place in the new theatre in the middle/high school at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, 2012. The public is invited to attend.