North Country schools struggle with budget uncertainty

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) The coronavirus pandemic is hitting local governments hard and school budgets are getting pummeled. Our Kelly O'Brien looks at some of the problems schools are facing with their budgets in New York's North Country.

New Yorkers will vote on school budgets statewide June 9. Schools I spoke with in Clinton County say they had to make those budgets without knowing what money is coming from the state.

"We and other school districts were made to create our spending plans and our proposals in the absence, frankly, of clear information of what our revenues will be," said Jay LeBrun, the superintendent of the Plattsburgh City School District.

The school budget is made up of district taxpayer dollars and additional money from the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the coronavirus pandemic's hit on the state economy could affect those dollars.

The state has to decide how to add money from the stimulus package to fund all the district school budgets.

Districts in the dark still needed to create a budget for the next school year.

"A majority of the public schools in the North Country are quite heavily reliant on state aid," said Scott Osborne, the superintendent of the Chazy Central School District.

Osborne says his budget is usually about 50% money from the state.

He says so far during the pandemic, the school hasn't made any cuts and is waiting to see if they need to based on what they get for help.

Their school was already seeing a million-dollar deficit to their budget prior to the pandemic.

The governor has said schools could see up to a 20-percent reduction in state aid.

"We're hopeful that that actual value is not relative to every school because a 20% further reduction to what's almost half of our revenue could be devastating," Osborne said.

Over at Plattsburgh Central School District, LeBrun says they had optimism while making their upcoming school budget, including money they hope to see, like from the federal stimulus.

"We are hopeful and confident and we are basing this off conversations with our elected officials," LeBrun said.

If that stimulus money does not come through, that means cuts to the school budget.

To try to save money, the district has eliminated positions that were vacant but LeBrun fears what will happen if they don't receive the aid they are hoping for.

"The tax levy will already be set so what will have to happen is a reduction in spending, which necessarily means a reduction in programming," he said.

This will be a mail-in vote only; there will be no option for in-person voting because of the pandemic.

LeBrun said they are seeing record numbers of votes coming in

"Already we have far surpassed the voter participation from recent years passed by a factor of multiples, four or five times as many that we have received thus far," he said.

Voters should have received their ballots in the mail by now. They were in an orange envelope for the Plattsburgh City School District.

You want to make sure you fill out the ballot and also the envelope. The districts say when they get these envelopes back, some people are not signing the back.

You must completely fill out the ballot and envelope for your vote to count.

To be counted, envelopes must be in the school districts' hands by 5 p.m. Tuesday.