By Sarah Hall
The North Syracuse Central School District is being crippled by the state’s failure to live up to its promises, according to district administrators, but they’re doing their best not to pass those costs onto its students or its taxpayers.
The district’s proposed 2017-18 budget calls for $158,690,480 in expenditures with a tax levy of $85,272,238, an increase of 3.02 percent over 2016-18. That’s a potential increase of $70 on a $100,000 home before STAR is applied.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Donald Keegan said the district has struggled with funding because the state has failed to follow through on its legal obligation to fund Foundation Aid statewide.
“The big story for us is the Foundation Aid. North Syracuse is hurt by it more than most districts,” Keegan said. “It’s still $8,137,000 lower than it should be. Meanwhile, some districts are getting more than the formula says they should. To be missing that much is killing us.”
Keegan said the lack of funding from the state has forced the district to rely heavily on its fund balance; this year’s budget uses $2.7 million to cover the gap.
“Because of the Foundation Aid issue, we’re forced to balance our budget using our fund balance,” he said. “That’s not sustainable over time.”
Part of the reason for the district’s spending, Keegan said, is its commitment to reinstating its inclusive model of special education. Last year, North Syracuse revamped its standards for special needs students to better serve them after seeing that population’s test scores decline and watching students struggle in the classroom.
“In working with consultants, [we found that] if you, instead of pulling students out, you’re leaving them in the classroom and pushing [services] in, not only to special needs students learn better, general education students do better, too,” Keegan said. “So we’re making a big investment this year on our inclusive model and hiring more special education teachers to co-teach and be in classrooms with both special needs students and general education students.”
Meanwhile, the district has seen an increase in the number of students with special needs, while enrollment in general has declined. Those needs, in many cases, have become more severe, Keegan said, necessitating more intense involvement from staff.
The 2017-18 budget includes the following staff changes:
The upcoming budget also makes the following other changes:
Finally, the proposal restores about $100,000 worth of activities and positions that have been cut with previous years’ budgets. According to the presentation Keegan gave to the board of education, in 2014 alone, 16 percent of co-curricular and athletic budgets were cut to balance the budget.
“In the dark days of the economy, we cut a lot of programming, and, to be frank, it hurt kids. I can’t say it any other way,” Keegan said. “By bringing these programs back, we are creating co-curricular opportunities for over 220 kids… It’s really disheartening when a kid doesn’t have an opportunity to do something after school. They need to be engaged. When they’re engaged, they do better in school.”
The vote will also include a vehicle bonding proposition that calls for the following purchases:
The total estimated cost is $1,557,334, with a tax impact of $2.10 per $100,000 of assessed value before STAR.
Keegan said he was pleased with the budget the administration had put together.
“I think we did a good job keeping our expense growth at 2.2 percent,” he said. “We did the best we could with a difficult situation. I hope the taxpayers can appreciate that.”
For voting information, visit 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.