SILVER CREEK - With a tax cap looming, local schools see hard choices in the future. In the new year each school has repeated the same song of hardship to come, and Silver Creek school is no exclusion from the choir.
At the Silver Creek Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Superintendent David O'Rourke gave a presentation of the potential situation.
Without sugar coating it, the expected deficit is over $579,000. This figure is assuming that the school raises the tax rate to the proposed tax cap level at the rate of inflation or 2 percent of the tax levy, whichever is less, and that state aid cuts are not less than expected based on estimates.
"It is very indicative that the New York State School Board Association has changed its strategy from trying to prevent a tax cap to having conversations about this tax cap, so I think there is a sense that this is likely to happen and it's a very big concern," O'Rourke said.
Like other schools, Silver Creek's deficit is due to increased obligations in salaries, retirement and health insurance. These contractual increases will equate to approximately $625,000 in the 2011-12 school year.
Like many other schools, O'Rourke asked the board to consider the Statewide School Finance Consortium's 'Four-Point Plan' to bring education costs under control.
"The Statewide School Finance Consortium is one thing; it's a bare bones organization, it really just focuses on one thing and that's students in this state... this group has been advocating firstly for equity in state aid ... and secondly, in a time of crisis, how are we going to re-focus those resources in a way that is appropriate and equitable," O'Rourke said.
The four-point plan addresses the four most costly aspects of a school's budgetary obligations, all of which cannot be changed unilaterally by the district, but only by the state government.
The four points ask the state to freeze wages when aid is frozen or cut, cap the cost of health insurance to schools, enact pension reform and reduce the cost of special education.
In the case of reducing special education costs, schools are asking for more state mandates on special education to be closer to the federal guidelines.
"New York's 'Cadillac' plan," Boardmember Irene Blakely called New York state's tendency to go beyond federal standards.
The board was left to consider the four points before making a motion to approve them.
It seems like common sense, Boardmember Scott Pulver said.
O'Rourke noted that to his knowledge, six other local districts had approved the four points and many others were considering them before the Legislative Breakfast at the end of the month.
The next Silver Creek School Board meeting will be held Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. with a workshop at 6 p.m. For more information on the 'Four-Point Plan' please visit the consortium's website at www.statewideonline.org.