The South Colonie Central School District projects its 2015-16 budget to fall around $96.1 million, an increase of less than 1 percent from the previous school year.
South Colonie presented its first draft of the budget at the District Office Tuesday, March 17. The budget may increase only 0.89 percent, or $848,034, from the current year. Once state aid numbers roll in, the budget will likely change; however, district officials doubt the change will be significant.
The average homeowner will see a 1.8 percent increase in the tax levy, or about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valued property. Although the projected tax levy limit is 1.89 percent, Sherri Fisher, Assistant Superintendent for Management Services and Strategic Planning, said she wanted to leave the increase lower until state aid numbers are released and the final budget is drafted.
The $1.3 million increase in taxes, along with $2 million in the fund balance, will help close any gap between the district’s anticipated expenditures and revenue.
The district’s transportation budget is anticipated to see one of the largest increases next year, going up 3.45 percent, or $133,284, due to implementing a GPS system in buses and partial restoration of after school runs.
“We had made some pretty significant reductions in after school transportation,” Fisher said. “Based on student needs for after school support, as well as clubs, activities and athletics, we’re having a little difficulty making that work, so we’ve added back a portion of those runs.”
Other budgets seeing larger increases are operation and maintenance, increasing $182,792 to accommodate staff being added in custodial and $50,000 in building repairs at Lisha Kill Middle School. The instructional budget will also see a rare increase of 3.09 percent, mostly due to the addition of four teachers in K-12, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Tim Backus said at the March 10 budget meeting.
The largest adjustment in the 2015-16 budget lies with employee benefits. District contributions to pension systems decreased statewide. South Colonie will see a $1.5 million decrease in its contribution to the Teachers’ Retirement System, and a $150,975 decrease to the Employees’ Retirement System. However, the district also sees an over $800,000 increase between health and prescription drug insurances.
The money saved in pension contribution has significantly helped balance the budget, according to Fisher, especially when taking into consideration the declining revenue sources. This does not mean, though, that the district has a surplus, as whatever money saved in the pension will be used in operations.
“Unfortunately, due to other expenses we have, and just moving forward, the majority of that is absorbed into our operating budget for 2015-2016,” said Fisher. As well, the rise in the tax levy will be eaten up by the increase health insurance, she said.
The draft budget’s draft’s state aid amount, Fisher said, is a “conservative” number of $20.3 million, a $338,355 decrease from 2014-15. While districts statewide wait for the state budget to be released, Fisher said that South Colonie does know it’s receiving less special education funding than anticipated. Last year also saw more aid due to “playing catch up” with the homeless aid, about two years’ worth, which the district will not see again this year.
Fisher said she hopes the $100,000 legislative grant the district received will come through so that it can be added to the budget before the end of the cycle.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $1.1 billion increase for schools is tied to education reform, which is holding the state budget up in the legislature. If the budget is not adopted by the April 1 deadline, Cuomo has said he would keep the state funding level for next two years, according to Fisher, meaning that schools would not see any change until the 2017-18 school year.
Without any increase in state aid and the pension reduction, Fisher said the district’s situation would not have changed from the past few years, with cuts and losses in both personnel and programs. Although the pension reduction was a large savings, it’s not one the district can rely on in the future.
“The pension is a one-time savings in the budget that won’t repeat itself again next year,” said Fisher. “So we want to be very careful and very deliberate about how we choose to allocate any state aid that is restored, because next year we’re not going to have that pension breakage, and we may still have another $800,000 health insurance increase, which doesn’t leave a lot of money for other priorities and initiatives.”
The district will present its second draft budget Tuesday, March 31, at 7 p.m. in the District Office. The public will vote on the budget on May 19.