Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 04 March 2011 00:00
The Mineola School District presented its first draft of the 2011-2012 district budget at its last meeting on Feb. 17 at the Willis Avenue School. The proposed budget for the next school year is $82,206,267. The budget-to-budget increase sits at $2,077,694 (2.6 percent) with an initial tax levy increase of 3.6.
The district is still aiming at decreasing the tax levy increase to 2.5 percent for a fourth consecutive year without cutting programs. District superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler said it’s still in the early stages of development.
The budget has seen a $600,000 decrease in State aid. Certain budget factors to take into account are the fact that no staff excess other than retirees has been calculated into the budget yet.
Furthermore, the lease revenue the district would gain from the Cross Street School rental has not been included at this time. Nagler will be working with Assistant Finance Superintendent Jack Waters and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Patricia Burns on the budget factors to be detailed at the meeting in the coming weeks.
All current programs are included in the budget, as well as a $500,000 facility upgrade, which has been applied to such projects like the Hampton Street School press box. Major expense categories detailed by Waters were salaries and benefits.
District salaries have seen a decrease of $300,000 while benefits have increased 14 percent or $2.4 million, mainly in health and pension costs. Waters detailed a three-year comparison from 2009 to the next school year’s budget. Pensions have seen a $1.5 million increase with a $500,000 health benefit increase.
“I wanted to show three years because it’s pretty evident as you compare, certainly benefits, in going across, you see a tremendous jump in our benefits for the 11-12 year,” Waters said. “Salaries are currently reflecting a decrease.”
According to Waters, there is a surplus in the “total health line” of the current budget. Waters stated surpluses in the past, have gone to pay down bond anticipation notes (BAN) to reduce the district’s debt service.
Salaries are seeing a decrease in that seven retired teachers have been taken out. Currently, they have not been replaced and one administrative position has been reduced.
In terms of the reduction in State aid, Waters said this concerns the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) stimulus that was rehabilitation monies the district will not be getting. The total budget draft coupled with the revenue, the district needs the 3.6 percent or $2.7 million tax levy.
“Our goal is to get to 2.5 percent,” Waters said. “We’re confident that we can. But right now, we’re at 3.6 on a tax levy but the spending budget is an increase of 2.6 percent. We’re losing State aid. There’s nothing we can do about it.
“There’s not much a district can do in generating other forms of revenue to offset the loss of State aid, therefore when we lose State aid, typically the only place we can get that back is to assess the taxpayer.”
As of this week, Waters said State aid for Mineola in 2011-2012 sits at $4,828,227. Total revenue in the district would add up to $6,545,007, which brings the current tax levy to $75,661,260.
To reach a 2.5 tax levy increase, a maximum tax levy for 2011-2012 would sit at $74,890,613, which amounts to $770,647 in excess levy. “Excess levy is the amount needed to take out of the budget in order to get our budget down to where the tax levy calculation would give us no more than a 2.5 percent tax levy,” Waters said. “That excess levy can be achieved in two different ways.”
According to Waters, one way to achieve that is to reduce expenses or bring in more revenue. He stated with a combination of the two, the district has to get to $770,647 in excess levy to reach the desired tax levy.
Waters said the district has not heard of any increase in State aid at this time. In terms of presenting a draft to the public, “we can only go on what the reports show us.”
Nagler stated the district typically uses the Governor’s proposal on State aid and, “the legislature messes around with it and in years past, they’ve added more money to it. Last year was a good example, but they added it so late, our budget was already voted on.”
Nagler said the State still plans on putting the budget through by April 1, but would not deal with the proposed 2 percent tax cap legislation until August.
The Hampton Project
Dr. Nagler detailed the Hampton Street School Project during the budget presentation. Like the budget factors mentioned previously, this project is not reflected in the current draft.
“It will be,” Nagler said. “When we put the budget out, the $2 million for that project will be in the budget and will bring the budget-to-budget increase to 5.1 percent. We have to do that.”
Nagler stated that it wouldn’t affect the tax levy because the district would be using the undesignated fund balance to finance the project. He said by spending this money now to make Hampton bigger to accommodate the pre-K south model, it’s ensured that no change will come going forward.
For the last two years, Nagler’s position has been that the district’s buildings are not big enough. In the past, “when we have changed configurations or closed buildings or reopened buildings, we didn’t deal with the basic problem that none of the buildings are big enough,” he said.
Nagler estimated with the exception of the Jackson Avenue School, the buildings have roughly 20 classes in each one. “This would solve Hampton’s problem and its 19 total classrooms,” he said.
If the budget fails in May, the $2 million to finance the project would be put in the capital reserve and go to a re-vote. Last year, the community voted yes on creating a capital reserve to fund district related projects only concerning reconfiguration.
If the re-vote fails, Willis Avenue would replace the Hampton Street School in the reconfiguration. Nagler said to make Willis Avenue able to accommodate a pre-K 2 model, five classrooms would need remodeling and additions be made to the cafeteria and an “outdoor space” while using $500,000 of the capital reserve.
“I cannot stress enough that the Hampton project in this budget will not affect this budget,” Nagler said. “We’re not asking the voters for any more money. We’re spending a reserve.”
State law says a district cannot fund a capital reserve and spend it in the same year. If the district funds the capital reserve in June, voters can vote in July to use those funds.
Nagler told the capacity crowd that the district could still reach the proposed 2 percent tax cap if the district were to go to a contingency budget and still fund the construction on Willis Avenue if the budget were to completely fail. The contingency budget would see a budget-to-budget increase of 1.92 percent but he is unsure if the district would not lose programs.
He stated that maximizing the nine available excesses the district has and the Cross Street lease.
“We’re looking at $1 million for those two points if that happens,” Nagler said. “Will those two things get us there? I don’t know.”