The North Syracuse Central School District Board of Education voted to approve the $144,716,279 2013-14 budget for presentation to the public on May 21. The budget calls for a 5.33 percent tax increase, which requires a supermajority vote for approval.
According to the presentation given Monday, April 22, the district’s fund balance represents 1.9 percent of its budget, and its reserves represent 1.3 percent. In other districts in the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES system, the fund balance is an average of 5 percent of their budgets, while the reserves make up 12.8 percent. Moody’s credit rating firm has given the district a poor rating. North Syracuse also spends less per student than 21 of the 23 districts in its BOCES system.
Meanwhile, costs for the district have gone up by 4.3 percent since 2012-13. The largest increase is in benefits for employees (the state’s Teacher and Employee Retirement Systems), which climbed by 11.1 percent since last year.
At the same time, overall revenues declined. Though the district saw a 4.5 percent increase in general aid, building aid remained went down 12.2 percent, and sales tax revenue, rents, interest and the fund balance all went down.
“The burden of funding schools has shifted from the state and federal government to the local school taxpayer,” the presentation said.
All of these factors combined have forced the district to request a 5.33 percent tax increase, or $4,047,682 over last year district-wide. That means taxpayers will have to pay an additional $117 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Over the last five years, the district as eliminated more than 200 positions. This year’s budget calls for the district to do away with 14.5 more, including:
One building administrator position at Gillette Road Middle School
Part-time director of music and art
Seven elementary positions at various locations
Five teaching assistants at various locations
The budget would also curtail the district’s bus camera project and call for pricing concessions from its current health care providers.
The 2013-14 budget doesn’t just call for cuts. It also seeks the addition of full-day kindergarten. The move will not impact the 2013-14 or 2014-15 budgets, as those costs are covered by the state, according to Assistant Superintendent Dan Bowles.
“Conversion aid will cover the cost of the first two years, about $3.2 million,” Bowles told the Star-Review. “After that we’ll need a supermajority vote as far as 2015-16 to see if this is something the public still wants to do.”
The shift to full-day kindergarten will add 13 regular teachers and two special area teachers.
The budget also calls for the addition of three Academic Intervention Services (AIS) teachers at a cost of $240,000, citing data that suggests North Syracuse’s students are at risk for failing state exams.
“Currently, 17 percent of third and fourth grade students are at serious risk of not passing the NYS ELA test. Approximately 37 percent in grades three and four have a 50 percent likelihood of passing the NYS ELA test,” the April 22 presentation said. Meanwhile, “20 percent of third and fourth grade students are at serious risk of not passing the NYS Math test. Approximately 37 percent in grades three and four have a 50 percent likelihood of passing the NYS Math test.*
In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, North Syracuse also wants to add a School Resource Officer for the middle, junior and high schools, as well as a social worker to split his or her time between the buildings. SROs are trained by the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. The addition of four SROs would cost about $80,000. The social worker would cost another $80,000.
In addition to the budget, district voters will be asked to decide on a bus proposition that calls for the purchase of the following:
Ten 65-passenger buses
One 39- passenger bus with one to three wheelchair positions, air conditioning and with a hydraulic lift
One 48-passenger bus with air conditioning
The air-conditioned buses are required for students with special needs.
The total cost of the proposition would be $1,298,137, which would result in $61,903 in tax increases in 2014-15, or $1.80 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The district will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 14. The full budget is available on the district’s website, nscsd.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.