The Guilderland Central School District offered community members a chance to weigh in on more than $2.3 million worth of potential reductions to next school year’s budget before board members pare down the list.
The district held a “community conversation” Wednesday, Jan. 29, covering its 2014-15 budget process to date and presented a double-sided paper of program reductions, along with nearly $500,000 of additions, and another document explaining the rationale behind each potential change. Superintendent Marie Wiles stressed changes presented were only preliminary ideas on how to close the district’s projected $1.8 million budget gap.
The district would need to raise property taxes almost $3.5 million to cover increasing expenses and declining revenues, but staying within its property tax levy limit only allows for an increase of $1.65 million.
“We have a gap, or shortfall, of $1.8 million to cover, and we have very limited options for doing that,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders.
State aid to the district is increasing almost $175,000 and totals nearly $21.3 million.
District officials did not say if board members were weighing to exceed its tax levy limit, which would require a supermajority of voter approval. The recommended reduction of appropriated fund balance usage, or spending its reserves, is around $855,000 from this school year and totals $1.73 million.
Sanders also noted the district was recently deemed “susceptible to fiscal stress” by the State Comptroller’s Office.
“As we’ve all labored under the economic downturn since 2008, things have gotten increasingly difficult for school districts and municipalities,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the district has received “competing messages” from the governor and comptroller, with the governor urging to spend down fund balances as the comptroller is urging not to exhaust them.
“We have been aware of the stress that’s placed on the district and how we look at utilizing those resources we have available to us,” Sanders said. “The district does remain in good financial standing, and I think the best evidence I can present of that is I am standing here today instead of my replacement.”
After a brief presentation on the budget, attendees broke out into six groups and met with school leaders regarding potential changes.
Those potential changes were broken out into six different groups, with every reduction or addition listed within its own category. Elementary instruction and staffing held $582,000 of cuts; middle school instruction and staffing had more additions at $280,000 than cuts at $42,500; high school instruction and staffing had $428,900 potential reductions with $78,900 of additions; special education had almost $450,000 of cuts and $62,000 of additions; a wide-reaching special areas category had $183,450 potential cuts and $78,000 of enhancements; and educational support services only had reductions totaling almost $660,000.
There were six areas of reductions school administrators have already identified totaling around $550,000 and were not under community consideration during the forum. These include cutting five elementary class sections due to enrollment; reducing materials supplies and equipment costs; reducing consultant and professional services; allocating less equipment repair funds; reducing travel and conference expenses; and an overall reduction in overtime.
This allowed community members to discuss the potential reductions totaling $2.34 million, but only needing $1.25 million to stay within its tax cap.
The majority of additions under consideration surrounded the middle school, which is preparing for an increase of students entering next year. The additions included tackling the growth total at $280,000 including increasing the sixth-grade core subject area, special area teaching positions, academic intervention services and math support, and adding BOCES enrichment mini-courses.
The district is holding a follow-up event to the forum on tonight, Feb. 4. Since time ran out during the community forum for a questions and answer session, the town hall-style follow-up meeting provided this opportunity.
To review all of the documents presented, along with watching the opening presentation, visit the district’s website.