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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 12, 2011
By Saranac Hale Spencer
Matthew Downey is running to keep his seat on the school board because he’d like to build programs when the economy turns around. He started his first term on the board three years ago, just as the recession was beginning.
The proposed budget is the best the district could give to voters, he said. The board wanted to keep the levy under 2 percent, he said, because “we have to start living within those means.”
During next year’s budget planning process, he said, the board will try to find further efficiencies. Also, he pointed out, the union contracts will be up next year. He noted that with the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, which maintains the terms of the union’s last contract after it has expired until a new contract is agreed upon, unions have little reason to renegotiate their contracts.
Of the typical pay schedule afforded in union contracts, Downey said, “the reality is that that can’t continue.”
If the governor’s proposed 2-percent cap on the increase in the district’s tax levy becomes a reality, any raises would have to be under 2 percent, he said. “Going forward, it’s going to be a different dynamic if there’s a cap in place,” he said.
Future contracts will have to be tied to the cap, he said. Whether or not 60 percent of the voters would be likely to approve of an increase higher than 2 percent would probably depend on what the money would be for, he said. If staying below 2 percent would mean larger class sizes or cuts to programs, voters might agree to pay higher taxes, Downey said, later specifying that he would not ask voters to override the cap to accommodate negotiated salaries.
Downey, whose two children attended Clarksville Elementary, voted in March to close the school. It was difficult, he said, but he felt that it was the best decision for the district as a whole, explaining that the school’s 200 students could be educated for $800,000 less.
He hopes that some of the housing developments that had been planned will be built and the school can reopen when the student population demands it. Until then, Downey wants to establish a committee to find a use for it one possible use, he suggested, could be for the district-wide sixth-grade program called “Nature’s Classroom.”
Students, Downey said, are whom the board is most responsible to.