Tupper Lake school district readies for budget season

Superintendent Seth McGowan

TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Central School District prepared for budget season at its Monday night meeting following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in New York City.

Superintendent Seth McGowan said that while the governor has said he will make education funding a priority this year, the district should prepare to maintain its budget from last year.

“In his message today, again this governor is ambitious to say the least; he’s got a lot of stuff in there,” McGowan said. “What interests me, though, is the education component. He did not talk about specific numbers for school aid this year, other than to say there would be record-breaking funding for education.

“We know right out of the gate that part of that is going to have to do with a proposal that he has to provide free college tuition for anybody making $125,000 or less. So that has to be a pretty significant amount of cash.

The governor said in his State of the State address on Monday at the World Trade Center that he plans to increase education funding to a record level with the state receiving more education aid than ever before, which will include the free tuition initiative and a new pilot after school program to extend hours for mentoring and tutoring.

“Our middle class is hurting and angry at their lack of progress,” Cuomo said. “They are paying the bills, but lacking security…We understand the anger and we will address it. Today I am proposing a Middle Class Recovery Act. It has three components: jobs and infrastructure; access to education; and lower taxes.”

Despite the governor’s initiatives, McGowan said he doesn’t expect Tupper Lake to receive much in state aid.

“I would suspect that we’re going to see a minimal increase in state aid from the governor’s proposal this year, if any, and honestly, we may even be lucky if we don’t have a decrease in state aid this year.”

McGowan said state aid and local property taxes are the only two sources available for school funding and that the district’s tax levy increase is going to be minimal, if anything.

“We’re headed for some difficult waters and tough decision making, but I’m hoping that the legislature in the end can help balance whatever the governor’s proposal is,” he said. “In essence, we have zero tax levy increase. I have a feeling we’re not going to have much of a state aid increase, and we have a budget with costs we don’t necessarily have control over, so it’s going to be a little bit difficult.

“Our costs roll forward at an exponential rate compared to the funding that we get,” he said. “From a theory of relativity standpoint, even though we’re not moving backwards, we’re standing still, and it feels like we’re moving backwards.”

McGowan added that it’s hard to develop a budget as the governor’s office has not yet provided budget estimates for each school.

“In the past, they’ve done runs so we can say, ‘Ok, in Tupper Lake, we’re going to be up $150,000, or we’re going to be down $20,000,'” he said. “He hasn’t done that so we really have no idea. We probably won’t have that until the legislature comes together and settles the budget by April 1.

“For right now, it does not feel like this is going to be the year that we get to restore all the things that we’ve always wanted to restore, so that’s kind of the forecast from Albany as I see it now.”

The school will hold its budget forum at its next regular meeting on Feb. 6, to which the public is invited to provide ideas.

“As we get down the road a little bit, we have not exceeded the tax cap in years,” he said. “There’s little value to doing that at this point. We haven’t done it, and I don’t see that we would want to do that necessarily. But if down the road, if push comes to shove and that’s a decision we want to make, we would certainly want to prepare for that in March or so.”