Tupper schools plan staff cuts as aid dwindles

District reassigning some staff, laying off others and ending temporary positions

TUPPER LAKE — The Tupper Lake Central School District is set to lose 17 to 20 jobs in the coming school year.

As district officials have put together their budget, which is up for a public vote on May 21, they saw that the district would need to cut $1.7 million in expenses to bring the budget below the state-imposed tax cap. Around $1 million of this deficit is the result of coronavirus pandemic aid from the state and federal government ending, according to TLCSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett. The rest is the result of rising expenses and the district’s dwindling fund balance, which officials are now hesitant to draw from as it nears a level that they believe leaves little room for emergencies.

Eight of the positions being eliminated are full-time positions which were funded with COVID aid. Bartlett said the district is moving some of these people, whose positions are being cut, to other jobs within the district. Others were told when they were hired that these were temporary positions.

One educational interventionist position at L.P. Quinn Elementary and two interventionist positions at the Middle High School will be out. These positions were created during the pandemic to address students who were falling behind as education shifted to remote learning. Their work has been lauded by school officials. Bartlett said the people in these roles will shift to other duties in the school.

The district is set to lose one additional psychologist, one additional nurse and one additional cleaner, who each spent time at both school buildings, because COVID money is running out.

Because of the rising costs of employee wages and health insurance — some of the biggest expenses for any school district, Bartlett said — more positions are being eliminated outright or cut through attrition as people retire or leave for other jobs.

For a long time, the district has pulled money from its unassigned fund balance, which rolls over unspent money from year-to-year, to bolster the budget. But that fund balance is now running low to a point where they can’t do that anymore, district officials say. They could present a budget over the tax cap, but have been hesitant to. The 2022-23 budget, which met the tax cap, passed by only eight votes.

L.P. Quinn Elementary School is set to lose a music teacher, a general education teacher, a teaching assistant and a special education teacher.

The district plans to eliminate one art teacher, one music teacher, one physical education teacher and one special education teacher at the Middle High School, and reduce the library media specialists’ time by half.

The district plans to eliminate five paraprofessionals. Bartlett said some of these people have been taking on teaching roles, because there’s a lack of certified teachers.

“Painful” losses

Bartlett said they hired retired educators for some of these temporary roles, knowing they could leave and wouldn’t be out of a job. So there’s been some minimization of job loss in the cuts.

But he said it doesn’t feel like that to anyone who is losing their job in the cuts.

Bartlett said he’s been having hard conversations with people, telling them they don’t have a job anymore. These talks are “painful” and “devastating,” he said. He also said it hurts to see the impact losing teachers and educators has on students.

He said these cuts are taking some opportunities away from kids but preserving education in Tupper Lake through “creative shuffling.”

School leaders knew the COVID money was running out, but watching students do better with what that money bought was encouraging, Bartlett said.


Bartlett said he he doesn’t think this could have been avoided. The fiscal cliff was coming and they knew it. Every time they added a new employee or service with COVID money, they knew it was temporary, but hoped it wasn’t.

“You watch the impact it has on a few kids, and you see the kids succeed where they hadn’t before … you see kids making up ground you know they had lost,” Bartlett said.

They wanted to make it work to keep these positions, he said. There had been a big push of public funding of schools in a global emergency, and they hoped it would have continued. But Bartlett said he now realized this never would have happened.

“I guess what this was was just a confirmation, a reality check, about the fact that we were never going to make that happen,” he said. “We all wanted it for the kids, but the reality is that the money was never going to be there.

“What’s best for kids always costs money,” Bartlett added. “You try to hang on to things that benefit kids for as long as you can until you absolutely positively can’t anymore with the hope that the funding situation changes when you get into an election cycle.”

He said there’s always more money for public education from politicians in election years.

Bartlett said he remembers in 2010 when schools around the state laid off staff and TLCSD laid off around a quarter of its school staff at that time. Some of the exact positions being cut today were lost back then and added back in the years since. He said he hopes funding cycles of the future will allow them to hire for these positions again in a few years.

Tupper Lake has the lowest spending per student ratio out of all the Tri-Lakes schools.

Bartlett said difficulty leads to creativity.

L.P. Quinn Elementary School Principal Elizabeth Littlefield said students were treated to smaller class sizes during the pandemic, but with the budget changes, they plan to increase the sizes again. She said currently, there are some classrooms with 14 students which will have 19 next year. She added that enrollment is declining in the district.

Littlefield also said the reduced staff mean they will offer fewer specials to students.

Middle-High School Principal Amanda Zullo said they anticipate feeling the loss of interventionists heavily, adding that teachers have been asked to step up to make up the difference.

She also said the school may collaborate with other local districts and BOCES for its more innovative offerings, like American sign language classes.

The budget

The district is currently looking at presenting voters with a $21.9 million budget with a tax levy under the tax cap. Bartlett said these should be the final figures. The board of education would have voted on approving the budget for the ballot at a meeting on Monday, but they did not have enough members to form a quorum, so votes could not be taken. Bartlett said they are planning to meet on April 22 to adopt the proposed budget.

There will be a presentation public hearing on the budget May 13 at 6 p.m. in the Michelle A. LaMere Library at L.P. Quinn Elementary School.

The budget vote and school board election is scheduled for May 21 with polls open from noon to 8 p.m. at the library of the Middle-High School.

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This story is the first in a series on the Tupper Lake Central School District’s 2024-25 budget.


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