KEENE VALLEY - Although facing tough fiscal challenges, the Keene Central School Board of Education has reviewed a budget proposal that will not result in any significant cuts to positions or programs.
The current budget plan would result in a 1.22 percent overall spending increase from the current year to $5,239,914, and a 1.98 percent tax levy hike to $4,318,455.
According to Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston, the district will be able to avoid cutting any teaching positions because retirements will be replaced by new, lower-paid teachers.
The school currently has three upcoming retirements - a fifth-grade teacher, a home and consumer science teacher and a high school English teacher. Ford-Johnston said the district is in the hiring stage for all those positions. The school's Web site is currently advertising for them, as well as positions for substitute teachers.
School board President Teresa Cheetham-Palen said the district will be looking at other ways to make the school run more efficiently.
"We'll take a look at all positions and may end up cutting hours for teacher's aides and assistants," Cheetham-Palen said. "But we don't plan on getting rid of any positions."
Cuts in the school's special programs, such as drama and forensics, were a major concern among parents and board members during four well-attended budget workshops in past weeks.
Fred Balzac, a parent whose son commutes to the school from Jay, said he was concerned about the curriculum.
"I'm mostly worried about the arts," Balzac said. "There are wonderful music and drama programs at Keene that the students really care about."
Balzac also pointed out the value of the forensics elective and said Keene is the only district in Essex Country that sends students to statewide forensic tournaments.
Ford-Johnston said the district doesn't plan on eliminating the program, but the current teacher, Joy McCabe, who also teaches high school English, is retiring.
"Because the advisor for the program is retiring, we may have trouble finding someone qualified," Ford-Johnston said. "But we are actively looking."
Cheetham-Palen said she feels positive about how the budget process is going and appreciates the support from the community, as well as the attendance at budget focus meetings.
"It's like walking on a tightrope," Cheetham-Palen said. "We're trying to keep the budget at a point where it's not so high that the school isn't viable. But we're also trying to maintain all of the programs that make the school unique."
The proposed budget comes at an interesting time for Keene Valley, as the district is in a union negotiating year.
"We're negotiating with every employee in the district," Ford-Johnston said. "This is really only the beginning of our financial efforts."
Ford-Johnston said that because the district is in negotiations with the teacher's union, numbers in the proposed budget may change when things are more clear.
Other cuts center around an agreement between the school and the Keene Valley Public Library. Currently, students visit the library, but the proposed budget would limit that time, resulting in a librarian visiting the school one day a week as required by New York State Law.
Ford-Johnston said impacts of proposed decreased state funding would not hit Keene as hard as other schools in the area. Because the district has a high property-assessment value in relation to the number of students, state funding only provides 10 percent of the district's budget. If the state cuts 10 percent of that funding, it would only result in a tax levy increase of $42,000.
"This is always a hard time," Cheetham-Palen said. "But what's important when facing these challenges is having such an incredibly supportive community."
Contact Eric Voorhis at (518) 523-4401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.