School Budget Series: Suburban schools prepare for difficult times

May 9, 2012

We’re less than a week away. On Tuesday, New Yorkers will flock to the polls to vote on their respective school budgets. Tuesday will be the first time budgets will be voted on since New York state adopted the property tax cap that limits the amount districts can levy taxes to their constituents.

The cap is putting pressure on schools in the suburbs of Syracuse, but pressure is not new – it’s part of a growing trend in budget problems for public schools.

“When are we going to get to the point where we can no longer provide the kind of service we need to -- the kind of service the community demands, or the kind of service we feel morally obligated to provide?” asks Syracuse University professor of education George Theoharis.

West Genesee Superintendent Chris Brown and his team saw this coming back in 2008 when the economy went sour, and he immediately started making cuts and re-tooling programs to prepare for difficult times.

“We were just fortunate enough that we think we got on that surfboard right when the wave was beginning to crest. We were able to kind of get on and balance ourselves and ride this wave through instead of crashing down,” said Brown.

In Fayetteville-Manlius School District, they’ve had to cut 25 staff members over the last three years, and Superintendent Corliss Kaiser says that it’s an ongoing struggle.

“Schools are businesses. There still needs to be a business office, there still needs to be capital improvements to our buildings. So I believe we need to put our heads together and find the most efficient ways that we can do that while making sure that our classrooms are held harmless from any further layoffs,” Kaiser said.

All this while parents, like Katie Nugent whose kids go to Fayetteville-Manlius, are fearful of more cuts.

“If I start seeing class sizes blow up and I see teachers go away -- it'll weigh in our home because that's why we moved up here. We moved here for this highly regarded education," Nugent said.

Both West Genesee and Fayetteville-Manlius came in below their projected tax caps, and both superintendents are proud of the budgets they’ve been able to put together in this difficult time. But both are also concerned with the difficulties they have each year to please both Albany and the taxpayers – while still trying to do good work in the classroom.

About WRVO's School Budget Series:

On May 15, voters across the state go to the polls to vote on their school districts' budgets. This week, we take a look at the way the budget vote works, the budget problems New York schools are facing, and the issues facing urban, suburban and rural districts.

Tomorrow we take a look at school districts on the fringes of New York state- rural school districts. Rural districts deal with declining student populations on a yearly basis. Rural districts, in particular, rely on state aid because of a relative lack of property wealth in their regions. Join us tomorrow on Morning Edition as our School Budget Series begins to wrap up.