Faced with rising expenses, looming state aid reductions and the possibility of a tax levy cap, many districts are planning sweeping cuts that may include staff and teacher layoffs.
That threat has left many teachers on edge, wondering whether their jobs are secure.
In Saranac Lake, where the school district is considering layoffs for the second consecutive year, a large group of teachers showed up at a school board meeting this week to deliver a statement to school officials.
Chris Knight has details.
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A group of more than 50 teachers and teaching assistants stood shoulder to shoulder at Wednesday night's Saranac Lake school board meeting as Don Carlisto, a teacher who is vice president of the teachers' union addressed the board. He said they want the district's administration to face the same scrutiny as they're facing when it comes to the possibility of losing their jobs.
"The SLTA respectfully submits that there should be a measure of equity, and that administrative positions must be considered for elimination just as teaching and teaching assistant positions have," he said.
Later, Carlisto said teachers just want the district to look at all areas of the budget to find savings, and not just focus on laying off teachers.
He said the teachers didn't show up at the meeting to be adverserial.
"But we wanted to make sure that we did something to really let the board of education know where we stand," Carlisto said.
School officials in Saranac Lake are planning to close an elementary school and take other steps to help close a $1.9 million budget gap.
They haven't said how many layoffs could be coming, although Superintendent Gerald Goldman has named some of the areas where staffing is under review, including included elementary and special education, math, foreign language, social studies, transportation and administration.
Goldman said after Wednesdays meeting that he understood the argument the teachers were trying to make.
"It's an arguement about equity, and I don't think this is necessairily an issue that's driven by equity," he said.
"It's a decision that gets driven by what the staffing levels are that you need to run your buildings."
Saranac Lake, which eliminated 15 positions last year, isn't the only district in the area that may end up cutting more staff to balance its budget.
In neighboring Lake Placid, the school board is considering laying off a half dozen teachers and teaching assistants, on top of the 13 positions it cut last year.
The Tupper Lake Central School District reduced its instructional staff by about 25 percent last year, and is trying to come up with a budget for this year that avoids any more layoffs. Some say local school districts, many of which have seen their enrollment drop in recent years, need to shed staff.
But the prospect of more teacher layoffs has been a call to arms for one local resident. Jeff Erenstone, a Lake Placid businessman, spoke to both the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake School Boards this week and has started a Facebook page called "Save Our Tri-Lakes Teachers."
"This is not acceptable for our community to cut our young energetic teachers who are our next generation of community leaders," he said. "It's hollowing out our future if we get rid of that group."
School districts in the North Country will be finalizing their budgets over the next month and presenting them to the voters in May.