By CRAIG FREILICH
BRASHER FALLS -- A 15-year-old freshman in St. Lawrence Central School in the Brasher Falls Central School District is asking fellow students to strike next week to protest another round of staff cuts.
“We have about 30 people signed up so far and more are still signing up,” Cheyenne Krise said late last week.
The strike is planned for 8 a.m. May 6. That night is the first of two scheduled budget hearings, the second on May 13. The budget vote is set for May 20.
She said that personally she is unhappy to see half a language position on the chopping block this year, which means she won’t be able to take French III “and my little brother won’t be able to take what he wants,” with more proposed cuts including one each math, physical education, art and business teachers and a half-position in music in the budget that is before the board.
Also to be cut in the proposed $21.3 million spending plan are a school counselor, a teacher’s aide and a cook.
Brasher Falls Superintendent of Schools Stephan J. Vigliotti, Sr., says he supports the students in their effort, and has been trying to communicate to state legislators the dire position the lack of state aid and already high taxes have put the district in.
“This is the result of five years of reductions in state aid revenue, and these cuts are the result of an effort to balance the budget,” Vigliotti said.
He said that he and his business manager worked on a five-year budget projection, verified by a well-respected education consultant, that revealed that “by 2017, without significant change in the funding formula,” the district would no longer have enough funds to operate.
He said Brasher Falls Central is a high-needs rural district that already has one of the highest school tax rates in the county, and the current situation is forcing the district, even with all the cuts this year, to use up $450,000 or about one quarter of the remaining fund balance, or “rainy day fund,” “in an effort to stave off financial insolvency.”
“We have money for these programs but they don’t want to dip into it,” Krise said.
“The kids, teachers and parents have been coming to school board meetings urging us to use more of the fund balance,” but Vigliotti says his experience has told him they have to hold onto what they can “as caretakers of the taxpayers’ money” in case the situation does not improve soon.
“We have contacted our state legislators and asked for more money,” Krise said. “Other districts got way more.”
Krise believes the district will be saying goodbye to such programs as the student musical theater production.
“Last year, when we put on ‘Willy Wonka,’ both nights were sold out. There were people paying to stand outside,” she said.
Krise said they have begun Facebook and Twitter campaigns to bring the situation to the attention of more people.
Vigliotti said he has met with state legislators already and wants to further impress on them the severity of the situation even though they have already set the state budget. “to show them what it means to the kids of Brasher Falls.”
“I applaud the kids for what they’re doing. I hope they don’t miss class, but we support them. There’s not a cut on the list anyone wants to make. We agree with them.