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Auburn 1-29-19

The Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education meets at a budget workshop Jan. 29, 2019.

AUBURN — With a deficit rapidly approaching, the Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education discussed its options to impact that gap.

At its meeting at the Auburn High School library Tuesday night, district Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo told board members he wanted to get a sense of how they wanted to approach that shortfall. Pirozzolo said he wanted to talk to them about how they feel about using reserve funds and acknowledged that some board members wanted to discuss the district's 2.21-percent tax cap given by the state. The district has said for years that it doesn't receive its fair share of state aid.

"Until the state listens to what our needs are and they finally realize, 'Wait, something's not right here,' and they make a fix, but until then it's up to us sitting here at this table," Pirozzolo said.

Board member Salvatore "Sam" Giangreco had doubts about using the reserves.

"Spending the reserves, my feeling is this: We're spending an insurance policy, just like if you have insurance on your house and you got to pay bills and you do something, you're going to dip into that and it's not there when you need it," Giangreco said. 

Board member Ian Phillips brought up the idea of exceeding the cap, which would require than a 60-percent majority vote from the community to pass.

"We all hope the state comes to its senses, but at at some point we have to figure out a solution to this problem," Phillips said. He said the district pays lower taxes than other areas.

"Nobody wants to pay more taxes, I'm a home owner, all of you are taxpayers, but at some point we can't starve our schools because people who have wealth are moving out of the district, so we have to find the solution to this problem," Phillips said. 

Board member Fred Cornelius had reservations about being able to successfully communicate the idea to voters.

"I'd love to think we could sell a 7-percent increase or something like that and have that much more revenue. I just don't know that we're that good a salesmen," Cornelius said. 

Board member Eli Hernandez said if the district proposed to raise taxes to the point that the gap would be resolved to save jobs, that could be used as a selling point to the community. He noted that while he doesn't want to pay higher taxes, he would be willing to if it ensured no job cuts.

"At the end of the day, the community has responded to us in the times that we've gone to them, and if we're saying 'We're going to make a commitment' and we're living in dangerous waters and making investments more for the sake of keeping our programming and continuing the work that we're doing in Auburn, then we're asking our community to support that, and that means this percentage," Hernandez said.

He emphasized the importance of rallying the community to advocate for the district.

Pirozzolo said several times this was just a discussion and no votes were going to happen during the meeting. Pirozzolo said the district appreciates the community's support in various endeavors, including the $43.7 million capital project voters approved in January. He said that wouldn't impact the 2019-20 tax levy, as that 1.98-percent increase doesn't go into effect until the district begins making debt payments on the project, which wouldn't be until the 2020-21 school year.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education Reporter