For the first time in four years, the Mohonasen Central School District will not have to cut any staff positions in its budget, according to Superintendent Kathleen Spring.
The district received $270,000 more in aid than what the governor had originally proposed in the Legislature’s budget, for a total of $18.2 million in state aid.
As it stands now, Mohonasen’s proposed budget is nearly $45.4 million, an increase of $1.3 million from this year’s spending plan.
“We’re in much better shape than we anticipated, and that’s a good thing,” Spring said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
Mohonasen has eliminated 70 full-time-equivalent positions during the past four years, according to Spring.
One section of sixth grade is being eliminated under this budget, as is junior varsity golf. Also, more maintenance will be done in-house and there is an across-the-board cut in equipment and technology purchases.
The district is in good financial shape because of several grants it has received, school officials say. Last year, Mohonasen received a School District Performance Improvement grant from the state — about $600,000 a year for three years — and a three-year, roughly $1.8 million federal grant for physical education programs in 2011.
Board member Mark Sabatini said the administration is to be commended for its financial management.
Spring cautioned that the fiscal storm is not over. The district has not received nearly $9.4 million it was due to receive under the state’s settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. When New York was having budget problems, it slashed aid to schools with its Gap Elimination Adjustment. Also, the district will have to make up the money when the grants run out.
After a lengthy discussion, the board came to a consensus to propose a budget with a 3.95 percent tax levy increase, which is below the district’s cap of 4.21 percent.
Board President Dom Cafarelli said there is misperception that it is a “2-percent cap,” because that is what the governor keeps saying. Voters may vote no if the percentage increase is too high, even if it is under the district’s tax levy limit.
“I just think that number is going to be conflicting for them. They’re going to look at 4 percent and they’re going to say ‘that’s double what the governor said it should be.’ ”
Sabatini added that there will always be a certain number of people who are going to vote “no” on the budget, regardless of what the board proposes.
If the budget is defeated at the polls, the board can revise the spending plan or submit the same budget for a second vote in June. If it is rejected twice, the board must adopt a contingency budget, which keeps the tax levy the same as the current year. The board can also opt to adopt a contingency budget after the first unsuccessful vote.
Board member Nancy del Prado said the district has to strike a balance between protecting programs and what the community can afford.
Board member Mark Moran said he preferred to present a budget that increases spending to the limit because the district is going to need the revenue when the grants go away.
Also taking that same view was Vice President Thomas Andriola, who said the district has already cut deeply in programs and is worried about increasing class sizes.
“I’m not sure we’ve really stopped the bleeding. We’ve stemmed it for a little while,” he said.
Cafarelli was pessimistic about the future of the district — unless major changes are made in how the state funds education.
“Two or three years from now, we’re not going to be able to pay our bills anyway,” he said.
The board decided to use $1.1 million from surplus — slightly more than Spring had suggested — to bring the proposed tax levy increase down to 3.95 percent.
Business Manager Chris Ruberti said the issue with using surplus is the district has to make up that money in a subsequent year. About five or six years ago, the district only used $300,000 of its surplus.
“It’s not sustainable to keep going in that direction,” he said.
Also on the ballot will be a proposition to purchase four 66-passenger buses at a cost of $460,000. State aid would pick up roughly 70 percent of the cost, leaving the district share at about $130,000.
The board is expected to adopt the budget formally on April 23 at 7 p.m. at Mohonasen High School’s LGI room. A public hearing and Meet the Candidates night will be held on May 13 at 6 p.m. in the same location.
A copy of the updated budget for the Mohonasen Central School District can be found on the Back to School blog.
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