The Cazenovia Central School District budget for the 2014-15 school year currently has a gap of three-quarters-of-a-million dollars; and although the state legislature — which has not finalized the budget yet — typically replaces a portion of the education funding stripped by the governor’s budget, no matter what happens, Cazenovia’s district budget will come up short and some budgetary items will not survive.
“We’re going to have to cut,” Superintendent Bob Dubik told the board of education during its Feb. 24 regular monthly meeting. “This is serious. The recommendations we make are difficult, and it will be a difficult couple of months.”
Assistant Superintendent Bill Furlong agreed. “We’re going to have a long haul this budget season,” Furlong said. “I didn’t think it could get worse, but it is.”
By “worse,” Furlong refers to the district’s current financial hardships, which include a loss of more than $5 million in state aid over five years, increased costs, a state tax cap that limits district revenue raised through taxes and a nearly depleted district fund balance that has been raided every year as a way to plug budget holes.
Last year, the preliminary 2013-14 district budget included an initial projected budget deficit of $650,000 with a nearly 5 percent tax levy increase and the elimination of five or more staff positions in the middle and high schools. The final budget included a 3.39 percent increase in spending over 2012-13 and carried a 4.94 percent tax levy increase, the maximum allowed for the district under the state’s 2011 tax levy limit law. The budget did not include any reductions in existing academic programs but did eliminate two middle school teaching positions, one custodial position and one high school guidance counselor position.
Cazenovia’s declining financial situation led to it being declared a school district “susceptible to fiscal stress,” in the latest Fiscal Stress Monitoring System report released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
The district administration began work on the 2014-15 budget in January, and, based on the financial information currently known, Cazenovia faces a budget gap of more than $700,000, Dubik said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 budget, released in January, slated a 3.8 percent increase in education funding — of that amount, Cazenovia received an approximate .37 percent increase in aid, or $21,000 more than the current year, Furlong said. Yet Cazenovia will simultaneously lose $1.1 million in 2014 aid because of the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment program, which takes aid money away from schools in order to plug state budget gaps.
Dubik and Furlong said they have met with district legislators Sen. David Valesky and Assemblyman Bill Magee who have promised to work hard to increase education funding in the state budget, as they have done every year. Dubik said he hopes the legislature will increase Cazenovia’s aid funding by $450,000, but even if the district receives that amount of restored aid administration will still have to make budget cuts of about $250,000. Those cuts could be anything from staff development money to teacher training money to program and athletics cuts to teacher layoffs, Furlong previously said.
Offering more specifics, Furlong said that in addition to the meager $21,000 increase in state aid this year, the district is looking at a $750,000 (or 2.8 percent) increase in spending next year, of which $300,000 of that is solely for special education costs. With the tax levy limit for Cazenovia capped at 1.1 percent under the state tax levy limit law, the district is currently looking at being able to raise only about $184,000 in taxes. Add to that the $21,000 in state aid and the district’s total $205,000 income is not enough to cover the district’s expected costs.
Ultimately, depending on what the state legislature does, the district will face anywhere from a $250,000 to a $500,000 budget gap, Furlong said.
The school board has scheduled a work session for Monday, March 10, at which the main topic of discussion will be the 2014-15 budget. The meeting, at 6:30 p.m. in the district office conference room, is open to the public.
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Unanimously approved the 2014-15 district calendar. The calendar, which was agreed to by the board of education and the Cazenovia Central School Teachers’ Association, has scheduled all half days and teacher work days for Fridays rather than Thursdays for the 2014-15 year. This change was requested by numerous district parents and was the subject of a petition with 176 signatures presented to the board in January.
—Unanimously approved a bond resolution to authorize the district to undertake capital improvement projects at a cost of not more than $7.4 million. The projects were authorized by district voters in January.
—Unanimously approved a resolution calling on the New York State Legislature to immediately eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a program instituted by the Cuomo administration in the 2009-10 school year to help the state fill its revenue shortfall by eliminating state aid to schools.
—Heard from Furlong that a drainage pipe froze and burst last weekend, causing standing water to cover the floor of the auxiliary gym in the Emory Street building. The district filed an insurance claim for the damage but still will end up paying about $6,000 to replace part of the floor, Furlong said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.