The Niskayuna Central School District got an extra $530,000 in state aid it wasn’t expecting. Now the school board is trying to decide how best to use it.
Should it go to reduce the tax rate? Should it go to savings? Or is there a middle ground where they could do both?
The budget plan drawn up using anticipated state aid numbers carried a tax levy increase of 2.81 percent — well below the district’s calculated tax cap of 4.52 percent. The additional aid, if applied entirely to the tax rate, could bring the increase down to 1.81 percent.
But board members late Tuesday night also noted a long list of uncertainties. They include next year’s state aid climate and a looming state building aid overpayment bill.
“I think that everyone just needs to think about that and think where we want to go with this budget,” board member Patricia Lanotte said after noting the bill for as much as $1.9 million in overpaid building aid for the district’s $99.2 million building projects.
District officials are working to get that number lower, but the final amount won’t be known for a while. Repayment could be done over one, three or five years.
The discussion about the unexpected state aid came as the board worked to get the final budget approved and sent to district voters.
Board members still had unanswered questions Tuesday night; budget approval is expected at the April 8 meeting.
The board also made small changes to the budget, including approving three teaching positions and a program development/grant writer position.
The changes result in no additional spending in the district’s proposed $77.3 million budget.
The district’s once-dire budget outlook for 2014-2015 became less dire last month as Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio proposed a spending plan with the 2.81 percent tax levy increase that retained all current programs.
Salvaggio said she achieved that figure through administrative restructuring, savings from retirements and the use of fund balance — unspent money left over from previous budget years.
Those changes and the tax increase eliminated the district’s projected $1.6 million gap between income and expenses.
The budget calls for spending $786,000 from the fund balance. Salvaggio has said those reserves have been built back up through conservative planning and expense reductions.
The unexpected increase in state aid allows for the possibility of using less of the fund balance, saving more to use next year or for the building aid repayment.
Looming over the budget talks are last year’s budget votes.
In 2013, the board went to voters with a budget that called for a 5.76 percent levy increase, which exceeded the 4.66 percent tax cap. Voters resoundingly defeated that plan, so the board came back with a 3.95 percent increase. Voters approved that budget.
But, even with this year’s proposal well below the tax cap, board members noted last year’s votes and wanted to use at least some of the extra state aid to get the tax increase lower.
Board President Deborah Oriola asked officials to come back with middle ground numbers that would use some of the extra state aid and save some.