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Watertown school budget leaves district hurting

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Watertown school budget leaves district hurting
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It's a theme across the North Country. If something doesn't change, schools will run out of money. In Watertown, officials say the district could be functionally bankrupt soon. Our Brian Dwyer takes a look at its newest budget plan and the district's bleak future.

WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- There's no sugar coating it.

"Our projections are that we'll be functionally bankrupt inside of two years at the current rate," Watertown CSD Board President Mike Flick said.

As Watertown school officials put the finishing touches on a budget plan it'll present to voters next month, the frustration is clear.

"It's been a tough budget cycle again," Flick said. "The last few years have been tough. This coming year was equally challenging and the years following are going to be tough as well."

The 2013-2014 budget is $66.2 million. It's up about $1.7 million from last year, but the money set aside for some very important things was cut by nearly a half a million. Despite asking voters for a five percent jump in the tax levy, it appears jobs will be lost again.

"We're looking at everything from programs to staff to I don't know, mop heads and paper towels, to you know, name it," Flick said. "We've done whatever we could or can to try to save money."

While state aid has gone up a bit, it's not enough to make up what was lost in previous years. It's a problem all across the North Country.

Something State Assemblywoman Addie Russell has been fighting for years. She's pressing the state, in its budget discussions, to stop giving richer schools a set amount of money they don't need.

"This budget makes strides in that area, but it certainly is not happening at a pace that's going to allow our school districts to stabilize in the next couple of years," Russell said.

If things don't change in Watertown, the cuts will only get bigger.

"The next step is you start looking at everything from music to sports to everything that's not core curriculum," Flick said.

Something Flick says greatly cuts down on the educational experience.

Watertown voters will also decide if the school can sell its former Butterfield School.
The money could help offset future budget shortages.

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