Apr 02, 2014 Joe Genco Uncategorized
The Skaneateles School District will not need to make cuts or raise taxes above the state cap to balance the 2014-15 operating budget.
District officials discussed the budget at an April 1 school board work session, one day after the state legislature voted to adopt a budget that increased funding to many districts throughout the state, including Skaneateles.
The total proposed budget is $30,194,522, a 0.45 increase over the previous year. Of that, about $6.36 million will come from New York state, $23,269,328 will come from property taxes with the rest coming from other revenue sources and reserve funds.
Under the previous state aid projections, the district’s budget was estimated to be $223,918 short. With the new state aid (a $133,716 increase) and other updated revenue projections, that figure dropped to $121,262, which the district can cover with unexpended fund balance from this year’s budget and other reserve money, Business Manager Doug Tomandl said.
For months, education advocates across the state had been encouraging residents to contact their legislators to campaign for restoration of funds taken away from schools under the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment policy (GEA). The Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES and the New York State School Board Association held a forum in Auburn in February where residents learned that the GEA had taken away about $4 million from Skaneateles over the past four years.
The GEA will still subtract $850,167 from Skaneateles state aid for the 2014-15 budget, though That figure is partially offset by a GEA restoration of $120,128, which nets a $730,039 subtraction from the aid previously promised by state law.
“To be clear, it isn’t that they gave us more money, they just took away less money,” Board President Kathryn Carlson said on the state aid adjustments.
In addition to the GEA the district has also been receiving less state aid due to declining enrollment, since the number of students in the district factors into the aid formula.
The most recent enrollment estimates released by the district show a total decrease of 47 students for the 2014-15 school year. This year’s senior class is composed of 130 students, while the incoming kindergarten class for next year is only anticipated to be 83 students.
With the new revenue estimates, the remaining budget shortfall of $121,262 will be covered by unexpended fund balance and other reserve money if needed. The district’s fiscal year does not end until June 30, but based on what money has been expended thus far, the district predicts it will come in under budget and plans to put its fund balance toward the 2014-15 budget, Tomandl said.
The district can also transfer funds from certain reserve accounts, to the general fund to cover a budget shortfall. This practice, called “interfund transfer” on budget documents, has helped the district stay within the tax cap in recent years, though it is now faced with dwindling available reserves and must make other plans.
By state law, the district cannot transfer funds out of dedicated accounts, such as the turf field replacement fund, to cover the budget. However, it can transfer money from some accounts, such as the debt service fund, to supplement revenue, Tomandl said.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Judy Pastel said that the lack of reserve funds could be a serious problem for the district in the future.
“It’s critical that we start rebuilding that revenue so that we can deal with that tax cap and not go out to a supermajority,” Pastel said.
The district does not yet have an estimate on what the tax rate will be under this budget, and the rate won’t be final until August when the district knows the assessments and equalization rates for the six towns within its borders, Tomandl said.
The district’s proposed tax levy of $23,269,328, stays within its 1.6 percent tax cap imposed by the state. The school board could decide to levy more taxes, though it would then need to get a 60 percent supermajority approval from the public. Levying taxes above the cap would also disqualify the district from the state’s property tax freeze program which was also passed in this year’s budget, Tomandl said.
Though the details of the program are still unclear, Tomandl said, residents of the district could get a rebate check from the state.
Residents will qualify if the BOCES, school districts and municipal governments stay under the tax cap and also reduce spending by 3 percent of their combined tax levies over three years, according to ny.gov. The program is designed to provide tax relief to residents and also encourage governments to consolidate services and reduce taxation and spending.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.