Return home

Officials eye $127.7M Rome school district budget

Cara Dolan Berry
Staff writer
email
Posted 4/12/22

ROME — Taxpayers in the Rome City School District will get to vote on a $127.7 million budget — and a 2.5% tax increase — for the 2022-23 school year. The proposed spending plan was unveiled …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Officials eye $127.7M Rome school district budget

Posted

ROME — Taxpayers in the Rome City School District will get to vote on a $127.7 million budget — and a 2.5% tax increase — for the 2022-23 school year.

The proposed spending plan was unveiled by Superintendent Peter C. Blake during the work study session of the board of education’s meeting on Thursday, April 7. Board members will be asked to adopt the proposal the board meeting on Tuesday, April 19, with the vote on the budget scheduled for Tuesday, May 17.

The total proposed budget of $127,719,791 reflects a total increase of 3.85% ($4,739,090) over last year’s final budget. The proposed budget, Blake said, came in just over the amount that district officials were hoping to achieve. “We were hoping to get it down to 3.5%,” said Blake.

The additional cost for the average homeowner, according to the district, would be approximately $105.

“This budget has very, very minimal flexibility for something to go wrong next year,” warned Blake. To its credit, he added, the proposed budget utilizes minimal reserves, calls for no reduction in staff and it restores programs previously suspended, such as school field trips. It also adds new programs, such as a boys varsity volleyball team, which had been stuck in the proposal stage up to now.

“The proposed tax increase falls under the tax cap, but will require extremely aggressive management of funds,” said Blake, who warned that there will be requests that, in the past, were met with a promise to explore a way to fulfill that will now meet with a simple “no.”

Tax implications

The 2.5% tax increase would add $891,299 to the district coffers. The proposed tax increase would follow a 1.9% increase needed to fund the 2021-22 school budget.

District officials said the 2.5% proposed hike is lower than the allowable tax cap amount of 3.51%. “Although we are increasing taxes year over year, we are still not increasing to maximum allowed,” offered Blake, “which is our way of saying that we will not take everything we can because we don’t need to do that.”

In terms of public school tax levies per $100,000 of property value, Rome’s levy ranks as fifth highest among its 21 neighboring districts, according to State Education Department figures. Factors that impact local tax cap rates include state and federal aid, changes in assessments, equalization rates and changes in STAR exemptions. 

Blake broke the overall cost of operating the district, which currently serves an enrollment of 5,209 students, into three parts:  

Students

The $127.7 million proposed budget includes a 32% increase in Occupational and Alternative Education BOCES spending; a 43% increase in the Counseling and Health Services budget, and a transfer of earmarked monies to the “Special Aid” category reflecting a 195% increase, or $533,750. 

Blake, in response to a question from Vice President Tanya Davis, added the district has a contract for fuel so those transportation costs have remained “pretty steady.”

Facilities

The second of the three-part profile of district expenditures were capital costs, which Blake shared primarily related to the district’s facilities. This budget saw an overall decrease of 3.2%. Blake called it “a wonky budget” as it reflected both significant increases and decreases reflecting the COVID-19 era, which included extraordinary state and federal funding support, and adapting to more normal circumstances. 

Administration

The third and final part of the overall district budget was categorized as administration, which Blake defined as “everything it takes to operate the Rome City School District,” including central administration and personnel. These collective costs were up 1.57% from the 2021-22 school year. 

Blake said that 75% of the overall budget directly supported instruction, “up slightly from last year.”

For the upcoming school year, property taxes are earmarked to account for 29% of overall revenue, representing what Blake called a “slight increase” over last year. Nearly two-thirds of the district’s revenue, 66%, will come from state aid while the remaining 5% would come from the district fund balance (2%); other sources (2%) and PILOT (payment in lieu of tax programs) of 1%.

The superintendent tipped his hat to the Empire State’s
governor, who initiated “fully funded Foundation Aid” in last year’s state budget. 

“The estimated total for the year reflects a $5,218,628 million increase, almost all in state foundation aid,” said Blake. “In a great year in the past, we were lucky to get $1.6 million or so in Foundation Aid.”

‘Wealth ratio’

Blake said the district is going in the “opposite direction” when it comes to its “wealth ratio,” a measurement used by the state to calculate and determine how much a local community will be able to fund a school. Districts with a lower Combined Wealth Ratio are limited in their means to fully fund a district.

The average Combined Wealth Ratio in New York is listed as 1.2; Rome’s “wealth ratio” year-on-year has dropped from 0.382 to 0.368.

“We are going in the opposite direction of 1,” said Blake, pointing out that Rome’s wealth ratio qualifies the city as an “impoverished district” which could qualify the district for more state aid.

Blake said the declining wealth ratio reflects an increase in the district’s population of homeless students and also for students for whom English is not their native language, a population that had been remarkably low in the past, but – according to Blake – is now growing.

Benchmarks discussed

Amid the discussion over the proposed district budget, attention has also been given to some benchmarks as points of concern throughout the ongoing redistricting debate.

According to state figures, Rome’s graduation rate has dropped overall to 74%, indicating approximately 1 in 4 Rome students do not graduate from high school. Among graduating seniors, roughly 20% or 1 in 5, earned “advanced designation” Regents diplomas last year.

As for the district’s six elementary schools (with the elimination of Staley Elementary School), four of the schools — Bellamy, Denti, Gansevoort and Joy — are “Identified ESSA Regulations,” an official term more commonly expressed to define them as “failing schools,” or schools that are considered to provide less than half of their students with the foundational academic skills that predict their success at the next level.

Only two of the district’s elementary schools are considered to earn the state’s “in good standing” designation — Stokes and Ridge Mills Elementary Schools.

Next steps

The board is expected to vote to adopt the budget at its regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 19. Upon the board’s adoptio, the proposed spending plan would be presented to the community at the Official Budget Hearing, scheduled for May 5.

Finally, district voters will cast ballots on Tuesday, May 17, with poll open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Questions, comments or concerns regarding the proposed 2022-23 school budget can be emailed directed to the nine Board of Education members via asktheboe@romecsd.org.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here