School district eyes potential multi-million dollar budget gap

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A big problem in upcoming “revenue flow” projections is facing the Rome school district’s next budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, says district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.

Blake, noting today that expenditures are being reviewed and he will give a formal presentation on the proposed spending plan at the Board of Education’s March 7 meeting, said it would not be a spring “where many people are going to like me.”

Blake discussed budget preparations this morning with the school board’s finance committee, addressing various factors including state financial aid issues and the allowable increase in the local property tax levy based on state formulas.

The allowable local tax levy increase conceivably could be 4.25 percent, district Director of Business and Finance David Dreidel told the committee. However, district officials have not yet specified any local tax details for the proposed 2019-20 budget.

A 4.25 percent tax increase would “at best, add $1.2 million in revenue...” for the budget, said Blake, but that would not cover the funded needed. He observed “we’re looking at...significant gaps” regarding expenses and revenues, and “obviously we can’t raise taxes enough to cover” the gaps.

As for state financial aid, which Blake said is the district’s other main revenue stream, he said of continued shortfalls in the foundation aid category in terms of not meeting the funding formulas, “that right there is a crippling effect.”

The district’s current 2018-19 budget is $117.9 million. In compiling the proposed 2019-20 budget, Blake said “we’re trying to get...to the ballpark of the $120 million-$122 million range,” which “would be something we could handle expenditure-wise.”

The district’s total state aid for its 2019-20 budget is proposed at $75.69 million, as cited in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019-20 state budget plan that is still subject to review by state legislators. That would be down 1.82 percent from the 2018-19 total. Within that amount, the foundation aid category of $49.09 million is proposed to go up about 1.5 percent or about $730,000, but Blake said it is not keeping pace with the funding formulas or the proportions compared to prior years.

Meanwhile, the local tax levy threshold for the school district in 2019-20 is estimated at about $35.22 million regarding revenue that can be applied to the budget.

Board member Lawrence Posselt asked about the district potentially reaching out to its bargaining units/unions regarding a “tough budget year” and asking if “maybe they could help us” such as ideas of “where can we be more efficient.”

Blake said some union officials in prior years have been able to suggest some steps once more specific budget figures are known, but he added that many of the suggested changes “don’t make the impact we need to make” in terms of significant savings.

The school district’s 2019-20 budget process following Blake’s presentation of a spending plan will include school board reviews prior to adopting a proposed budget in April. The budget ultimately would be decided upon by district voters in the May election, and would take effect July 1.

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