May 10, 2012

In My Opinion: May 10, 2012


---- — The Beekmantown Central School Board would like to set the record straight on at least one issue: the fund-balance statements made in recent Letters to the Editor.

One year ago in this column, the School Board explained the fund balance and told Beekmantown residents that there would be no fund balance left at the end of 2012-13 to support future budgets.

It stated: "The school budget is financed in three ways: 1) Revenue from all sources like state aid (which will be reduced by over $2.4 million with the elimination GAP), Medicaid, admissions, interest, etc.; 2) tax levy; and 3) fund balance.

"One half of the fund balance or $3,574,028 of the $7,148,056 will be used to finance a part of the 2011-12 budget. The remaining $3,574,028, less 4 percent of the total budget, will be used to finance a part of the 2012-2013 budget.

"The district is allowed and will retain the 4 percent of the fund balance for operational and emergency purposes. The board felt it prudent to at least try to bridge two years during these difficult economic times — is that an elementary thinking process?

"The money (fund balance) is not gone yet, but it will be at the end of the 2012-13 budget (if all things remain as they are today) because it is being spent on the budgeted expenses," we wrote then.

People have stated that they do not understand what happened to the fund balance the district had three years ago. Superintendent of Schools Scott Amo and/or our school business executive have explained more than 12 times during the last two years of budget sessions where the fund balance is and what it has been and will be used for. This included verbal explanations, spread sheets, flyers, Power Points, etc.

This does not include the numerous times the fund balance has been explained one on one by Mr. Amo, Ms. Blaine and each and every board member. Just because a person does not understand what is presented and explained does not mean that "fiscal accountability is sorely lacking."

Just as in your household, when you do not have enough income to cover your expenses, you have to use your savings. Once your savings is depleted, you have no more additional money to pay your future expenses.

The School District is no different; when revenue coming into the district and the tax levy are not enough to cover the total expenses (budget), the fund balance is used to pay those expenses. When there is no fund balance left, we have no more additional money to help pay future expenses.

As for an "illegal fund balance," the Dec. 13, 2011, School Board minutes, Page 8, accepted the 2010-11 audit report prepared by Conroy, Boulrice, Telling & Trombley, PC, and the following was read into the minutes from the audit report: "Corrective Action: The board appropriated $3,574,028 of fund balance to the 11/12 budget year and decreased the total amount of needed tax levy to balance the budget. The board has demonstrated an effort to decrease tax rates for four years consecutive since September 2007. Further, the board desires to apply a comprehensive approach over multiple years in an effort to reduce fund balance levels to statutory limits. The goal of adjusting fund balance in a methodical and disciplined approach is to avoid unnecessary 'spikes' in tax rates."

The board, while being criticized for maintaining "excessive fund balance," is faced with an economic storm of sorts resulting in challenges from both decreased state aid and mandatory contractual obligations resulting in increased expenditures for items such as wages, State Retirement rates, health-insurance premiums, energy costs to heat buildings, fuel costs for transportation and cost shifting of certain mandated services from state funding to local funding at the school level.

All of these challenges combine to suggest that the amount carried in fund balance may not have been excessive at all — as it will take this combined fund-balance reserve and significant school budget cuts to minimize the impact of the tax rate.

We are fortunate to have experienced board members, and we will continue to do our best to serve our students, staff and community.

Steve Trombley is president of the Beekmantown School Board, with Vice President Leonard King and members Karen Armstrong, Cathy Buckley, Stan Kourofsky, Richard LaVigne, Ed Marin and Pauline Stone.