TUPPER LAKE - The Tupper Lake Central School District is starting to look at layoffs as one way to shoulder the burden of the proposed state budget.
"The state budget is not looking very good, so if things don't improve, there will be some layoffs happening for sure," said district Superintendent Seth McGowan. "It's a very difficult time."
School board President Mike Dechene said there is a possibility that as many as 30 school employees would have to be let go. The district currently employs about 190 people, with about 120 of those considered instructional staff.
Dechene said he is concerned about the effects of such a potentially high number of layoffs on Tupper Lake.
"I think it's devastating," Dechene said. "I think it's something that's not only going to devastate our education in our district, but it's going to devastate our community. ... It's one of the worst things that I've ever encountered on the school board."
While McGowan would not confirm he had been meeting with individual school employees last Friday, he said he had a meeting last Wednesday with his full staff and told them he would be talking to everyone about the status of layoffs as the situation unfolded.
"People would need to know that they might need to make early preparations or might want to consider options outside of the school district," McGowan said.
McGowan would not specify whether he expected to cut teachers or support staff if there are no significant changes to Gov. David Paterson's proposed state budget.
"We would really have to look at the entire district and make those decisions based on the big picture," McGowan said.
In its initial budget planning earlier this year, the district planned to eliminate four teaching positions by not hiring people to fill the jobs of four teachers who will retire at the end of the school year. Two of those teachers work at L.P. Quinn Elementary School and two are teachers at the middle/high school.
McGowan said the district planned those eliminations to address the shrinking rate of enrollment at the schools.
"We're doing our best to keep up with attrition rates, we just want to be careful not to overreact," McGowan said.
With Paterson's Executive Budget, McGowan said Tupper Lake got hit harder than other school districts in the BOCES region. The district would see a $1.03 million, or about 6.5 percent, hit to its budget, much higher than the 3 percent that is typical in the rest of the region, McGowan said. He said that number would make a big difference in the district's $16 million budget.
McGowan said Paterson has repeatedly railed on schools that have high reserve funds, so he should take money from districts with higher reserves.
"We carry just a miniscule reserve fund, and if he were to really put his money where his mouth is, he would be using that as a primary measure for the gap elimination," McGowan said.
McGowan said he is concerned about the impact a high number of layoffs would have on the quality of education in the district.
"There's a limit to how quickly we can do this kind of thing without causing serious damage to instructional programs," he said.
Dechene said the school board and administration have been meeting with as many people as possible to see if there's something that can be done about the inequality.
"They have this formula that they give out state aid with, and that formula is wrong," Dechene said. "The way the state has taken a large amount of money from Tupper Lake, it's not right, and we're going to fight tooth and nail to see if we can adjust this."
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, who visited Tupper Lake over the weekend, heard McGowan's concerns last week.
"Tupper Lake is getting hammered," Duprey said. "There's got to be a mistake someplace."
On Saturday, Duprey said she had a meeting Monday in Albany in which she planned to discuss the inequalities with other state lawmakers.