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December 27, 2013

Cuts, curriculum sparked debate in '13

(Continued)

Oneonta School Board President Grace Larkin said as districts deal with reduced resources, there aren't a lot of options.

As had other districts, Oneonta made some difficult choices to meet previous budget deficits. The district planned to move its sixth grade from the elementary schools to the middle school, and cut more than a dozen positions to close its budget gap, which at one point was $1.5 million.

When schools learned in late March of the amount of state aid they would receive, it was generally more than was anticipated when budgets were crafted to go before voters May 21.

At Oneonta, the $500,000 in additional state aid was “far better than what I thought we would get,” Interim Superintendent David Rowley said. While it wouldn’t change any plans, “this will change our thinking on further cuts.”

Delaware Academy Central School was also scheduled to receive an increase more than was anticipated. Superintendent Jason Thomson said: “We are happy to see more than expected but we have to be realistic and cautious. We don’t know if it's a one-time opportunity.”

At Unatego, which still faced a substantial deficit, savings from shared services with Sidney Central School, and amortizing required debt service payments were part of its budget plans.

With all area school presenting budgets at or below the state tax cap in May, only Middleburgh Central School saw its budget defeated. It was passed in June after it was cut below the tax cap.

After the May vote, Rowley said the open process in discussing budget issues helped. At Unatego, Rosas said the vote showed “outstanding” community support, while at Delhi, Thomson said it was “a resounding vote of confidence.”

Although the budgets were passed, schools had already started looking at ways to meet next school year’s anticipated budget squeeze. In late August, that included continued efforts by Sidney and Unatego Central school to save money by working together. A merger-study grant application was also submitted to the state by Schenevus and Worcester Central schools. The announcement came later in the year that it was not funded.

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