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Analyst calls $2.4 million budget gap possible by '15

A financial presentation Wednesday to residents of the Holland School District showed it could be running a $2.4 million deficit by 2015.

Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium, spent the last few months analyzing various studies, surveys and audits of the district and offered the prediction to a full house in the high school auditorium.

"You've taken state aid hits of $3 million in the last two years, and you're trying to run the same district," he said. "This is unsustainable. Something has to give."

He recommended a long list of potential austerity measures, including dropping Advanced Placement classes, canceling overtime, charging for use of school facilities, eliminating services that BOCES can provide, cutting special-education costs and re-examining collective-bargaining agreements.

And when it came to the topic that many in the audience had came to hear about, Timbs was definitive.

"As far as closing a building, I have no doubt it will require that," he said.

But residents did not seem to buy the doom-and-gloom scenario entirely, particularly since their school tax rates have hovered at or near the bottom of those in Erie County.

When Superintendent Dennis Johnson put up a slide that showed possible 20 or 30 percent tax increases, one resident said, "It looks like you're trying to scare people."

The presentation did not include specific options or costs associated with closing a building or merging with another district, nor did it say whether those options were feasible.

Before the meeting ended, one parent was taking signatures on a petition demanding that the presentation be made available on the school's website for further analysis. From most seats, the numbers that were shown were difficult to see, even on a large projection screen.

In conclusion, the superintendent encouraged residents to participate in focus groups that will discuss strategies and options that may help the district meet its financial challenges.

The viable options will be brought to the board before its Oct. 24 meeting, he said.