By Pamela Doan
The good news is that the 2015–16 budget process looks as if it will roll out fairly uneventfully in the hands of a seasoned group of Board of Education members at the Garrison Union Free School district. The district also hasn’t had any measles reports, but the board discussion at their Feb. 18 meeting looked ahead while evaluating the current state of affairs.
Superintendent Laura Mitchell and Business Manager Susan Huetter presented the board with estimated figures for the 2015–16 district budget. Mitchell reviewed the school’s mission as context for the budget and recognized the challenges they face in delivering quality programs within the bounds of the tax levy limit and low expectations for a larger portion of state aid.
Spending is up slightly due to increases in salaries and benefit commitments. The increase is projected at nearly $150,000, which is just under Huetter’s estimate for the tax levy limit. “Without having the governor’s aid figures, we can only estimate the budget now,” said Huetter. GUFS relies on state aid for 7 to 8 percent of their budget. Most of their funding comes from district taxpayers.
Board members expressed concern about the amount of the district’s reserve funds that will be necessary to fund the 2015–16 school year. Although Huetter described it as minimal, Board member Derek DuBois said: “We decreased the fund balance by $83,000; what that really means is that we planned to spend $300,000 from the reserves and we are on course to spend close to $400,000 out of our reserves this year. It’s 1/8 to 1/10 of our reserves. We’ve gone from saving for a rainy day to spending $300,00 to $400,000, which by definition is a path we can’t be on for more than eight years without ugly consequences.”
The board decided to review a five-year tally of the fund balances to get a clearer picture of the trends and look at net changes.
Board member Charlotte Rowe said: “Because we’ve had such large reserves, we’ve basically preserved our situation a good 10 years out. Most school systems have reached this point in three to five years, but we’ve maintained our independence and low taxes because of the reserves. Other districts face raising taxes, consolidating to lower costs or looking at completely new scenarios.”
The minutes from the Safety and Health Committee sparked another discussion about the district’s policy on vaccinations. Board members continue to be concerned that 16 of the 220 students are not vaccinated, and that puts the school below what is considered to be the herd immunity threshold of 95 percent. Although New York state law requires vaccinations, parents can refuse to vaccinate their children for personal, religious reasons and be granted an exemption.
The board requested that their legal counsel review the district’s policy and advise them if there are options to strengthen, refine or change the policy. The school health nurse interviews families who request the exemption about their beliefs.
Board President Raymond O’Rourke said: “We want to be sure that we are not being unduly lax in granting exemptions. We have a high number, higher than any of our neighboring districts, but the question is if the policy is as restrictive as it can or should be. It may not be as rigorous as it could be if that’s the direction we choose to go.”
The Center for Disease Control reports 141 cases of measles in 17 states currently, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Measles is highly contagious. The district recently included information about the measles in packets that are distributed to parents.