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Lancaster Central School District 2012-13 budget public hearing
By Lee Chowaniec
May 8, 2012, 10:11
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The Lancaster Central School District (LCSD) held a public hearing on its proposed 2012-13 budget. The $91.53 million budget increases spending by 4.7%. Through generous use of reserve and fund balance revenues, the allowable tax cap levy of 3.76% was reduced to 1.88%. A Town of Lancaster will see a 1.51% property tax rate increase – 24 cents on every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

Less than 10 residents attended the hearing. The writer was the only attendee to address the Board of Education (BOE) on the budget.

Writer comments

As you are aware, with the exception of two early budget work session meetings that conflicted with town board meetings, I attended all the other budget work sessions. I have witnessed and commend the BOE for their time and effort in putting together a budget that should be acceptable to the public and more so to the Lancaster School District staff.

Acceptable to the public in that the district lowered the budget tax cap levy from an allowable 3.76% tax levy increase under the new state tax cap guidelines to 1.88%. This translates to a 1.51% tax rate increase, a $24 increase on a Lancaster home valued at $100,000.

Noteworthy is that no educational programs were cut and where only three teacher positions were cut, and that was because of a decreasing student enrollment.

Acceptable to school district staff as well in that no teacher cuts were necessitated, all educational programs were left intact, and where instructional staff salaries increased by 7.63% - increase caused by the loss of $1.73 million from the federal Jobs grant program and where 28 positions had to be absorbed into the school budget. It should also be noted that LCSD has been reacting to the budget crunch situation in the past few years by closing a school and making position cuts.

At the same time, because of state mandates, teacher staff received a 4.75% salary increase (Triborough Law) and the district is obligated to meet skyrocketing retirement and health care program cost increases (6.19%). It became quite clear early on in the budget process that the district had a monumental task ahead to reduce the tax rate to 1.51%.

The BOE managed to accomplish this, but some questions and concerns have to be voiced on how they did it. The LCSD newsletter provides information that correlates with budget work session numbers on the final budget regarding tax levy and tax rate increases, spending increase of 4.47%, and final budget number of $91.51 million. The two differ in some respects because the information is provided in different format – by three main components in the newsletter. I would therefore like to ask and comment on the following.

Administration Component

In total, the administration component spending increased by 11.4%; by, $960,810. It comprises 10.2% of the total budget.

Under Administration, in the line ‘Curriculum administration and Supervision: regular and special schools’. What does this line encompass and why a 16.5% increase from the last budget; a $486,000 increase?

Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services:

“Most of the federal Jobs Program positions are in that component of the budget; plus equipment, professional development, etc. Some of those job positions are coming back into our budget appropriations.”

Under Administration, ‘Benefits for administration functions’ increased by 14.9%. Could you also explain what this apportionment is and why the $291,000 increase.

Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services:

“Again, the same as just stated, from the loss of $1.73 million in federal Jobs program aid.”

Program Component

Because of the difference in the way the two information processes are presented (work session vs. newsletter) we now note that in the newsletter the instructional and non instructional salaries are combined and that helps lower the percentage as non instructional salaries increased by only 1.89% and where there were 10.8 FTE non instructional staff cut from the budget.

Benefits for program functions increased by 5.2%, is that correct?

Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services:

“I don’t have that number at hand.”

In total, program spending increased from $63.87 million to $66.52 million, by 4.14%. The Program Component compromise 72.7% of the total budget.

Capitol Component

The Capitol Component comprises 17.1% of the budget and only increased by 1.98% in spending; from $15.38 million to $15.64 million. It increased by $301,257, $139,685 of that going for a benefit increase of 6.63% in spending.

In total, we are seeing high percentages of increases in several line items. I have to ask again whether this is attributable in large part to the $1.73 million loss in federal Jobs Program aid.

Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services:

“It is because of the loss of the $1.73 million. Without having to put those positions back into the budget, the budget-to-budget increase would be 2.5%. The increase of only 1.89% for non instructional staff was had because positions were cut from the budget. It is tough to look at the budget in apples-to-apples terms because the $1.73 million loss in aid had to be put back into the 2012-13 budget.

Chowaniec: As someone who supports this budget, I am asking these questions because I know of people who are already looking at the percentage increases and not taking into consideration the loss in aid.

It should also be noted that in the budget presentation we were informed that property tax revenue increased by $800,000 and state aid increased by $1.2 million. It would therefore appear that the $1.73 million loss was made up.

However, it should also be noted how state aid has decreased over the last several years. Regardless, looking at revenues vs. expenditures, there is a $9.96 million shortfall. It is troubling to see how this gap is being made up.

Where is the money coming from?

We see this spending taking place, a 4.47% increase of $3.91 million and where revenues increased by only $2.81 million, 3.56%, and have to become concerned on how the difference was made up. The district will be using $6.87 million of the reserve funds and $3.10 million from surplus for a total of $9.96 million. That is worrisome, especially considering we are reaching a point where such reserves will no longer be available.

Next year, the district will approach that cliff that Superintendent Edward Myszka spoke on a few years ago, where such reserves will not be available, where things have already been cut to the bone and where position cuts are the only option.

In fact, may I ask what caused the increase in use of fund balance from that stated on the work session draft budget – from $9.79 million to $9.96 million?

Jamie Phillips, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Support Services:

“The early retirement program incentive.”

Lastly, is any of the state aid funded in jeopardy if the teachers union does not agree to the APPR agreement, and if so, by how much?

Dr. Michael Valley, Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & PPS:

“We are still in negotiations with the Lancaster Teacher Association on that matter. Governor Mario Coumo has placed a deadline on having a teacher’s evaluation agreement in place by January 17, 2013. If a contract agreement is not had by then, it will be a major cut for Lancaster, somewhere around $1.1 million. That would be a mid-year cut. It would immediately impact this budget.”

Chowaniec: “How would the shortfall be made up? What cuts would be made?”

Dr. Vallely: “Whatever it would take. It would be devastating.”

Chowaniec: “Thank you. I ask these questions because I found it interesting that the Governor stated in today’s media how wonderful he thinks the tax cap is working out. It was but a few years ago that the dictate came down from the Governor’s and Comptroller’s office to use the reserves that had been amassed over the years to balance the budget. Well, the school districts have been burning through the reserves and I have to ask ‘what’s next to
preserve the education of our children’?

As I have already stated, I support this budget, however, I have grave concerns regarding budgets from here on; on how we can continue to spend money we won’t have.

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