After months of labor, discussions and variable financial projections, the Skaneateles CSD board of education is preparing to put forth its latest budget with a 2.5 percent tax levy increase and no cuts to educational programs or reduction of staff levels except through attrition.
This drastic reduction from the initially-possible 3.43 percent tax levy increase is partly the result of the board’s fiscal management skills and partly from higher-than-expected state aid included in the recently-approved state budget.
“We’ve dodged another bullet as far as not laying off staff and maintaining programs,” said Superintendent Phil D’Angelo. “We’re looking out for our students and managing this as fiscally responsibly as we can.”
School board President Evan Dreyfuss said the increased state aid made a huge difference in the district’s budget and, “we should use this to reduce everyone’s tax burden.”
When 2012-13 budget discussions first began in December last year, the Skaneateles school district – which has already cut $2.1 million out of its past two annual budgets — was looking at a possible $717,000 shortfall in the $29.6 million budget and a 3.43 percent or higher tax levy increase to district residents.
As the months have passed, numerous variables turned out in the district’s favor that have reduced the projected increases, such as teacher and staff union willingness to accept moderate increases in their contracts, and the recent increase in state aid. But while other Central New York districts have still had to layoff dozens of teachers and cut numerous programs, Skaneateles has been able to reduce through staff attrition and the ability to draw revenue off its reserve accounts.
At the April 3 work session of the school board, Dale Bates, assistant superintendent for business and finance, laid out for the board the current budget possibilities taking into account the increased state aid included in the state legislature’s budget.
The new state aid would total $324,047 or a 5.41 percent increase. The addition of this funding would make the Skaneateles school district budget’s current shortfall $119,743 or .41 percent, Bates said. This would in turn create a projected 2.5 percent tax levy increase and an estimated 2.8 percent tax rate increase for the town of Skaneateles to cover the budget.
The other towns in the Skaneateles school district would fare differently than Skaneateles under this scenario – Spafford’s tax rate would decrease .23 percent (because of its projected 115 percent equalization rate), and the other towns of Marcellus, Sennett, Niles and Owasco would see increases of between 4.8 and 4.9 percent.
As of March 30, the reductions needed to balance the Skaneateles school district budget if a 2.5 percent tax levy increase were passed would be $164,669, Bates said. He suggested that cuts to the unemployment reserve fund ($50,000), funding for field renovation and supplies ($12,800), the replacement of a retiring high school chemistry teacher with a part-time teacher, and the mid-year retirement of a special education teacher (who recently told the board of his/her plans) would bring the necessary budget reduction number down to $24,955.
This final amount of shortfall, Bates suggested, could help to be reduced by the board deciding to charge usage fees for all non-school events in district buildings and on district grounds.
Skaneateles is the only school district in the area that does not charge usage fees, Bates said.
“We are also the only free venue in town right now,” D’Angelo added.
From July 2011 until mid-March 2012, there were 500 school activities on school grounds, but 800 non-school activities on school grounds, Bates said. All of those activities require light and heat, custodial cleanup and general staff cooperation from the district, he said. Some district charge $5 per person for non-school events, he said.
“We’ve gotten to the point where everyone needs to chip in to keep things going,” Bates told the board. “If we can [by charging usage fees] reduce expenses by $15,000, that’s $15,000 we will not have to take from someplace else [in the budget].”
The 2.5 percent tax levy increase was not the only option given to school board members, however. Bates also offered budget figures for possible 2.9 and 3.4 percent increases as well.
No matter what levy is agreed upon, the district still must use $400,000 of its reserve funds to balance the budget this year, Bates said.
The 3.4 percent, which is the highest possible levy allowed without needing a super-majority public vote on the budget, would not only cover the $29.5 million budget, but would also add an extra $33,821 to the district’s accounts, Bates said. That extra money would most likely be used for equipment for instructional, athletic, musical and grounds and maintenance use, he said in response to a question from board member Kate Cogswell.
“2.5 percent is where we need to be without injuring any taxpayers,” said board member Kathryn Carlson.
“I go with the 2.5 percent,” said board member Michael Card, who has previously said he favors a 0 percent increase. “I don’t want to go any higher.”
“The state in its budget held itself to 2 percent increase, and I think 2.5 percent is the best we can do without cutting programs,” Dreyfuss said.
“This is the best position we’ve been in for the last few years,” Cogswell said, referring to the past two years in which the board cut $1 million each year.
With the board’s consensus on the 2.5 percent tax levy increase to the budget, Bates said he would prepare the final budget numbers to present to the board at its next meeting on April 17.
All of the Skaneateles school district’s budget worksheets and information can be accessed online at skanschools.org/Budget.cfm.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.