Press-Republican

March 14, 2013

City School anticipates 2013-14 budget gap

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City School District officials and community members were recently reminded that planning the 2013-14 budget will be a balancing act.

“On one side of the scale, we have the financial matters ... and on the other side, it’s being balanced against what we want for an education program,” City School Superintendent James “Jake” Short said at the School Board meeting.

He told attendees that a rollover budget — a spending plan for 2013-14 that maintains all of the district’s current expenses except known retirements — would come in at $39.6 million.

REVENUE PROJECTIONS

As of now, the district anticipates $17.9 million in revenues next school year, which includes federal and state aid, local funding and allocated fund balance.

Short noted that aid numbers are only projections at this point. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, which would give the City School District a less than 1 percent increase in aid, hasn’t been approved. 

And the district has no indication from the federal government about funding for 2013-14.

“I don’t think it should be lost on any of us (that) state aid and federal aid, our governmental support for public schools, is limited, and (we) don’t expect it to do much more than that,” he said.

In addition, Short noted, the district operates a number of grant-funded programs that could see funding reduced as a result of federal sequestration.

The preliminary 2013-14 revenue figure includes $1.9 million in fund balance, the same as was allocated by the board for this year.  

It is up to the board to decide whether to move forward with that allocation or modify it, Short said.

TAX LEVY

The draft budget carries a tax-levy increase of 2.5 percent, which would generate $20.3 million for the district.

Short said that 2.5 percent is an arbitrary figure that he chose to use as an example. The district’s actual tax-levy increase for the upcoming school year must also be determined by the board.

If the figures presented in the draft spending plan were to hold true, according to Short, the district would face a $1.3 million gap in 2013-14.

City School Associate Superintendent Jay Lebrun said the district’s allowable tax-levy limit for 2013-14 is 5.33 percent, which would generate a total of $20.9 million. Though that number has been reported to the Office of the State Comptroller, he said at the meeting, it remains unofficial at this point.

While the district’s 2012-13 tax-levy limit was 3.01 percent, it has since increased due to exclusions in the formula used to calculate the number.

VOTING RULES

Under state law, any spending plan that carries a tax-levy increase at or below its calculated limit requires a simple majority of greater than 50 percent voter approval to pass.

In order to pass a budget with a levy increase beyond the district’s limit, 60 percent voter OK is needed.

Last May, voters shot down the school’s initial 2012-13 budget proposal and its tax-levy increase of 5.82 percent.

“The community could not, would not (and) did not support a tax rate that was above the tax-cap threshold … I think that shows you there’s a limit to where people can go with it,” Short said. 

HIGHER COSTS

On the expenditures side, he noted, increases in health insurance, employee- and teacher-retirement contribution rates and negotiated salaries “are strong price drivers” in the upcoming budget.

While health-insurance rates were voted to go up 4 percent in 2013-14 instead of the expected 7 percent, Short said, “4 percent is still above the CPI (Consumer Price Index), so it’s still a cost driver.”

And when it comes to the district’s program offerings, he said, board members will have to consider modifying or eliminating programs to reduce expenditures.

The board, he added, must also look at emerging needs associated with the state-mandated Annual Professional Performance Review of teachers and principals and Common Core Standards, as well as deferred maintenance items.

PROGRAMS

District programs, he noted, can be divided into three categories: mandated services; programs the community demonstrates a need for, including counseling and psychological services; college and career planning; family support; and offerings like athletics and advanced-placement and elective courses, which the community has expressed a desire for.  

“We’re going to have to keep taking some of these things away,” Short said. “Nobody truly wants to take things away from students. But we all know we’re strained.”

SALE SUGGESTED

During the public-comment period at the start of the meeting, Plattsburgh resident Fritz Tobrocke told the board he felt it should look at moving district offices to an active school building and selling the Duken Building, which houses district offices.

“This is an expensive building to keep,” he said. “There’s a lot of money to be made from this property.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston: alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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LEARN MORE

Find information on the district's 2013-14 budget and tax-levy limit at plattscsd.org.