As it begins work on its annual budget, the Schenectady City Board of Education faces a projected budget “gap” of $3.5 million because of expiring grants and increasing personnel costs.
District staff told the board that it was expected to have the tax cap authority to increase the district’s total tax levy by $1.5 million — or around 2.7 percent — with a simple majority of voters. The district’s tax levy last year was over $54 million.
The shortfall is based on what school officials called “conservative” estimates and are still subject to change as the school board works its way to a May budget approval vote by district residents.
During a meeting Wednesday night, board members didn’t dive into any discussion about how deeply they were willing to dip into their new tax levy authority to cover the budget gap. But Superintendent Larry Spring said after the meeting that district officials were “sensitive that [residents] are already paying elevated taxes.”
Of the $3.5 million shortfall — the difference between the district’s projected revenues and projected expenses if programs stayed the same — just over $1.8 million is tied to expiring grants.
Those grants fund a variety of projects across the district, including a $250,000 school improvement grant at the high school, over $340,000 for extended learning at Central Park, FDR, Keane schools and the high school, and $188,000 for “community school” programs at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
The projected budget figures, however, did not account for any new grants the district may receive next year. Spring said district staff are “grant chasers” and will do all they can to bring in new revenue through grant funding.
“There are always more being made or proposed,” Spring said. “We make efforts every year to try and replace those [grant] revenue with others.”
The other component of the projected budget gap was mostly tied to increases in health insurance, employee contracts and other personnel costs paid out of the district’s general fund.
“My guess was 4 to 6 [million dollars], so I guess I’m happy,” Board of Education President Cathy Lewis said with a chuckle during the budget presentation. “I don’t know, too early to tell.”
Spring pointed out after the meeting that this year’s projected budget gap is lower than in recent years, citing projected gaps as high as $10 million in previous budgets. He said over the coming months the board will weigh what new programs it wants to fund, what old programs it wants to keep or cut with how much it wants to raise taxes or dip into budget reserves.
The board will receive a presentation on the district’s primary operating budget at its next meeting on Feb. 24.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.