AUBURN — Contenders for Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education seats debated the district's proposed 2019-20 budget and other topics Thursday.
Newcomer Brianne Neabel and incumbents William Andre and Jeff Gasper spoke at a forum at Cayuga Community College. Newcomer Danielle Wood was not able to attend. Three open three-year positions are up for grabs within the nine-seat board.
Andre, who has served on the board for a total of 18 years, endorsed the budget, which is set to entail a 2.23% tax levy increase — equal to the district's tax cap given by the state — and involve no layoffs, though some positions would be phased out through retirements. Andre said he will advocate for the budget to anyone who asks him about it, adding that district personnel and the board appreciate community members approving various district propositions over the years, such as the $43.7 million capital project voters passed in January.
"I think this is a responsible budget that takes care of what we need in the district and also takes care of the taxpayers that have been so good to us," he said.
Gasper, who was first elected to the board in 2016, also came out in favor of the budget, saying the district finds creative ways to retain programming in annual budgets such as securing grants. He also thanked the community for passing previous district endeavors. Neabel, who owns a dog grooming business in Auburn, said she doesn't have "an easy 'yes or no' response" for if she supports the budget. She said she doesn't like that some positions will be gone regardless of whether or not it's through attrition, as she doesn't like the idea of inflating class sizes, though she said she didn't think that is set to happen in the next school year. She said she believes the budget is fiscally responsible, though.
"I do understand and appreciate the budget this year, I just have a couple of small issues, especially when it comes to class sizes," she said.
In response, Andre said he believes the district spends less per student than comparable districts and than the state average.
In regard to the possibility of ever exceeding the district's tax cap, which would require over a 60% majority community vote to pass and has been discussed by board members in the past, Gasper cited the higher tax increase that would incur for the community. In order to make a sizable financial impact, Gasper continued, the district "would have to go quite a bit above" the cap. He said he didn't believe that was the most prudent move for the upcoming budget, but predicts the district will have to discuss the option for the future.
"Down the road, I think we're really going to have to take a serious look at it," Gasper said "It really made the board open its eyes to the question of 'When will we have to eventually ask the community for that?'"
Neabel said emphasizing the importance of an education to younger students may help address Auburn High School's year-to-year graduation rate drop.
"If we teach our kids younger why it's important and how to value their education it will help a little bit with the graduation rates," she said. "So what I would think would be like increased career days, so there's more than just one a year, more than just sixth-graders seeing it, more internship opportunities in middle school or high school, more structured mentorship or shadowing opportunity at younger ages in the middle school."
Addressing the district's move in September 2018 to have less art and music classes per month for elementary students than in the previous school year, Gasper said he wants to see the rotation restored, but cited budgetary concerns. He said the current schedule has "been working pretty well" based on his conversations with others and his own observations, and touted the technology programming implemented in the wake of the changes.
People will be able to vote on candidates and the budget May 21.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.