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Shenendehowa Central Schools look forward

The Shenendehowa Central Schools Board of Education heard the district's annual three-year budget forecast at the Tuesday, Dec. 9, meeting. The presentation was of special interest considering that Gov. David Paterson is calling for spending cuts across the board, including reductions in state education aid.

The forecast is usually a five-year outlook, but it was scaled back due to economic uncertainty. If it holds true, the 2009-10 budget would clock in at $149.6 million, a 2.4 percent increase, and require a 3.3 percent tax hike. This year, voters approved a 4.7 percent tax increase.

In typical times, a 3.3 percent is a very attractive tax levy, said Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson, before noting that this year presents incredible circumstances. "It's a reality we have to deal with."

The subsequent years could see 8 and 9 percent tax increases, though officials cautioned that the projections are preliminary.

The budget forecast operates under a variety of assumptions that could change dramatically. It allows for a "best case scenario" of zero-growth in state aid over the next three years, but if Paterson's preliminary budget, to be released Tuesday, Dec. 16, calls for reductions in aid for Shenendehowa, it will skew the numbers.

"I think they really set the stage to hit us in the next couple of years," said Kathy Wetmore, Shenendehowa's chief financial officer. "We're really at the mercy of the state at this point."

Shenendehowa is Saratoga County's largest school district, and it is scheduled to receive more than $45 million this year. With such a large number, even a 1 percent decrease in state aid has a large effect. A 5 percent cut would mean $1.3 million less in aid, for example, and such shortfalls would have to be made up by expenditure cuts or tax hikes.

The district has certain expenses that it simply cannot cut back. It is contractually obligated to provide salary increases to many employees, and in 2010 it's expected the obligatory donations into the teachers retirement system will double. An estimated $4.6 million of the district's savings will go toward contractual expense increases in the 2010-11 school year.

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