By Michael Mell
The March 16 Garrison School board of education meeting began with a budget workshop update from Superintendent Gloria Colucci. Two of the planned four workshops have been held, with some members of the board in attendance, but this was the first full board update. Colucci has stated previously that input from the budget workshops is necessary for the board to make appropriate decisions to shape the 2011/12 school budget.
Colucci began with a summary of $529,504 in budget increases that are outside of district control. These include reduction in state aid, low interest rates on investments, mandated benefit increases, increased tuitions and cost shifting from the state to local districts. Offsetting these increases are increased allocations from reserve funds, restructured staffing, refinanced debt service and reduction in a number of district contractual expenses. These recommendations are included in the preliminary budget and will result in overall tax levy savings of $224,526.
Colucci and Business Manager Susan Huetter then presented the board with some new savings options developed since the last budget workshop. Money from a federal jobs fund is available to the district to pay salaries during the 2011/12 school year. Though only a one-year allocation, it would save the district $47,728. The second option calls for increased allocation of the district’s debt service reserve fund using two possible scenarios. The first would distribute the remaining balance over nine years and would save the district $12,652. Colucci described this, however, as providing “the least bang for the buck.” The second scenario would apply payment from the 10th year (of debt service payments) to budgets for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 budgets for a 2-year saving of $56,938. Colucci advised the board this would help stabilize school budgets for the next two years. The Superintendent recommended that the board consider taking advantage of the federal jobs fund and the second debt reserve scenario, which, together, would reduce the tax levy by $104,666 and reduce the tax levy increase to 3.46 percent. The current roll-over budget would require a tax levy increase of 4.95 percent.
During board discussion of the options, Trustee Jim Cannon commented that while the jobs money would help in the coming year, it could create problems in 2012/13. Cannon also asked how the salary lines paid from this fund would be determined and what would happen after it expired, but no specifics were discussed. Perhaps summarizing board feelings, Cannon added that “I’m not prepared to commit” tonight.
Adding to the list of revenue/expenditure unknowns is the status in the state budget, of proposed “cost shifting” and aid to schools. Cost shifting will force school districts to pay expenditures previously paid by the state. Colucci told the board that so far both the senate and assembly have rejected the idea of cost shifting in their deliberations. The state budget also now includes a different level of aid to schools, which would likely be more than currently anticipated, but the exact amount is unknown pending passage of the budget. Commenting on the historic lateness of state budgets, Colucci said “we will have to put out a budget with many unknowns.”