– By Josh Durso
The Auburn Enlarged City School District held a budget workshop on Tuesday that drew criticism from open government advocates, as well as local residents.
On Thursday, Superintendent Jeffrey A. Pirozzolo defended the session, pointing out that attorneys for the school looked at the reason for entering – and cleared it.
The district, like many in Upstate New York is anticipating, upwards of 20% in total cuts to aid. However, Pirozzolo said that his district could be spared, because of a classification with New York State. “The cut could be lesser, closer to 10%, which would be significantly different,” he said in a phone call Thursday morning.
His core concern: Presenting budget scenarios to the public that aren’t based on accurate numbers or information, thereby creating fear in the community.
Speaking to FingerLakes1.com about a separate matter of local government transparency, Kristin O’Neill, Assistant Director of the Committee on Open Government said that discussing general policies of layoffs, furloughs, or other matters – even if they impact individuals – are not grounds for closed door sessions.
“A public body cannot discuss general policies or decision that may impact personnel in executive session – they have to be discussing matters relating to a particular person (or persons) or corporation(s),” she explained. Instead, they must cite the specific personnel cause for entering executive session, which would include discussion about the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person.
Pirozzolo says that happened because they talked about the individual employment history of certain employees of the district.
He addressed the fact that cuts to district – which would not be limited to teaching staff, and include various types of support, custodial, and maintenance positions – would take ‘performance’ into consideration.
“Right now we’re looking at performance,” he said addressing that point. “Once we have identified positions, we will hold a public session,” he continued. “Right now, we don’t even know how much is going to be cut; and we hope to find that out later this week, but we don’t know. And we may not know for a while, or if more cuts to aid may come.”
Pirozzolo noted that a budget is due this month, even though districts don’t have a lot of information to work with in that process. “What happens if more cuts are necessary down the road?” he asked. “This is an unprecedented set of circumstances. We don’t know a lot right now.”
The Superintendent assured that any session, which could be held in public would be handled that way moving forward.
As for the Committee on Open Government, we’ve reached out for clarification on this session, and where the line of responsibility ends.
It’s also unclear what the union implications are of making cuts on a person-by-person, or performance-based methodology when a district is facing a deficit of this size. The Auburn Enlarged City School District already faced a deficit of more than $1 million, according to Pirozzolo.
The school board’s next meeting is set for May 26th.