The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District’s new interim superintendent has his work cut out for him.
Raymond Colucciello started Dec. 28 with a tour of the building and a crash course in the district’s financial problems led by Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Patrick Michel.
His first task is to cut $90,000 from this year’s budget, on top of the $500,000 in mid-year cuts started by Michel. The cuts need to be made to smooth end-of-the-year cash flow and prevent larger-scale money problems down the road.
It’s a hard way to start a new job, but Colucciello is used to it. He’s been superintendent of seven different districts in a 53-year education career, and many of those districts have been in financial straits like Fonda-Fultonville.
“In the last few years, cuts have been a reality in many schools,” he said. “So unfortunately, I’ve been a part of tearing down some districts.”
He may not have enjoyed taking the scissors to programs and staff, but it was this experience that landed Colucciello the job. Before the hiring process even began, Michel said he called Colucciello to make sure he was applying.
“We chose Ray because he brings an enormous amount of experience to the table, especially with districts in fiscal crisis,” he said. “He led the Schenectady School District out of their $10 million deficit.”
Colucciello is a bit more modest, saying he’s not a fiscal “guru” but rather was often correcting his own mistakes when balancing budgets. Even so, his experience with those seven other districts allow him to wade right into Fonda-Fultonville’s money problems.
To make cutting easier, he’s developed a list of 14 questions. If a program is mandated by the state it can’t really be cut. If not, a program’s worth is calculated by the answers to questions such as: How many students participate? Does it spur achievement? And how would the community react to the program getting cut?
He took a moment to explain question nine: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Many aspects of education, such as bus routes, are subsidized by the state.
“Cutting one dollar from transportation would only save us 14 cents,” he said. “That’s not worth the squeeze.”
With so little time at his new job as of Thursday, Colucciello couldn’t be sure about what he’ll be cutting, but Michel said the $90,000 will have to come in large part from layoffs.
“He’ll probably have to cut four or five positions,” he said.
And those positions will have to be either teachers or administrators. Figuring in the added cost of unemployment insurance, cutting a secretary position would only save about $6,000 while losing a teaching job would save anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000.
Fonda-Fultonville’s immediate future might seem bleak, but Colucciello is hopeful for a few reasons. His contract, though open ended, is up in June, so he can afford to be a bit unpopular. But it’s more than that. He sees opportunity in bad finances.
“Never waste a good catastrophe,” he said. “Another one might not come a long for a long time.”
In his experience, money trouble gets people to let go of things they’ve been clinging to for years, and allows for an honest re-evaluation of the system.
“We have to think outside the box,” he said. “We should consider things like online classes, not just cuts.”
On the other end of his time in Fonda-Fultonville, he hopes to have a plan laid out that will lead the district on to better things.