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Superintendent's Column - March 5, 2010

A Challenging Budget Year

On the evening of Feb. 11, I gave a presentation to the Board of Education about the school budget for 2010-11. It was the first of a series of public meetings the Board will hold as they review the budget that will ultimately be presented to the voters on May 18.

This year’s budget climate is among the most challenging in recent memory. With the economic outlook still very uncertain and New York State likely to reduce school aid, districts are facing some of the most difficult fiscal circumstances in decades. Our approach to building a budget for 2010-11 has been to maintain the integrity of our educational program while fully acknowledging and understanding the economic times we are living in.

We began the process by looking at the current year’s program. I asked the district’s administrators to look for ways to reduce expenses without impacting education. In December, administrative staff submitted budget proposals for their respective buildings and departments. Each of them then met individually with me and the Central Administration team to determine what is truly necessary, to make reductions, and to ensure equity among all of the schools.

While we are working hard to preserve our programs, we have had to consider the impact of several major factors over which the district has little or no control. Because of the poor performance of the financial markets, school districts will be required to make significantly higher payments to the state retirement systems. At the same time, the cost of health insurance is anticipated to rise sharply again in 2011. On top of that, all employers in the region, including public school districts, have to pay an MTA payroll tax that was imposed after the voters approved the 2009-10 budget.

The budget proposal presented to the Board and community on Feb. 11, which is only a first draft, contained an overall budget increase of 3.98 percent. Half of that increase is the result of only two of the factors mentioned before – mandatory increases for the retirement systems and for health insurance. Stated differently, the cost of these items will cause the budget to increase by approximately 2 percent over the current year without adding any value to our educational programs or any other aspect of our district. The other half of the proposed increase, also about 2 percent, is for all other budget items, inclusive of salaries – educational programs, special education, technology, facilities, transportation and capital program.

In addition, state aid will likely decrease by hundreds of thousands of dollars, thereby reducing our revenue stream even as we are straining to rein in our expenses. Every dollar we don’t get from the state has to be made up either by spending cuts or other revenue sources.

There will be many hours of public deliberation on the budget in the coming weeks. We continue to review many aspects of the budget and to ask some hard questions: With each resignation or retirement of a staff member, do we really need to hire someone or can we reorganize? How can we make the most effective use of our reserve funds to lessen the impact on property taxes without affecting our long-term fiscal health? What is the best way to continue our long-term capital improvement program and protect the taxpayers’ investment in our school facilities?

On the Business and Finance Page of the district website you can find a calendar of upcoming budget meetings, a copy of the budget draft first presented on Feb. 11, as well as a copy of my presentation from that meeting. As we make revisions to the proposed budget they will also be posted to the website.

 I look forward to the community’s continued input into the budget process as we work together in these difficult times to reduce costs and preserve our excellent educational programs.