Massena school board to look at using $3.5 million in fund balance, $200,000 in cuts to close budget gap; may slash 2 positions
Friday, April 4, 2014 - 6:03 am

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- Although state aid is expected to go up for the Massena Central School District, the Board of Education is looking at a budget shortfall and may use $3.5 million in reserve funds and make $200,000 in cuts from last year’s spending plan to close a $3.7 million gap.

That proposal does not abide administrator requests of about $2.18 million.

A presentation at the board’s Thursday night finance committee meeting, which was attended by the full board, shows that property taxes could potentially see about a 1.6 percent hike.

“Property taxes cannot make up for lost aid,” business manager Nick Brouliette said.

A 1-percent tax increase generates $138,000, so to raise $1 million, the board would have to approve a 7.3 percent boost.

The presentation showed that the district is looking at spending a total of $49,282,278, not including administrator requests. Revenues, including property taxes and state aid, are anticipated cover $45,546,791.

Some of the budget shortfall is due to anticipated expense increases of $2,537,563. The biggest jump is the BOCES bill, which is going up about $1.3 million.

“BOCES is up significantly due to special education costs … administrative costs and enrollment,” Brouliette said.

Contractual obligations will increase $748,734 and employee benefits are taking a $706,860 hike.

A document outlining the proposed cuts shows the board is looking at eliminating two positions – a special education behavioral specialist at an $85,000 salary and another worker at a salary of $65,000. Since the district is required by law to tailor the special education program to the student body’s needs, they may have to look elsewhere for the $85,000.

The cuts at this point are proposals, nothing is set in stone. The board will not approve a final budget until April 24.

The potential cuts also include removing desk jet printers from classrooms, saving $13,600. A rental deal with BOCES may also go on the chopping black, saving $15,000.

It also includes cutting field trips for a $12,000 savings, but the board seemed to want to find ways to work around that because they give students valuable educational and life experiences.

“I don’t think we should cut field trips,” finance committee chairman Loren Fountaine said.

The district is looking at running out of fund balance in the next few years. They now have $22.4 million. The unrestricted balance may be gone by the 2015-2016 school year. The rest, a so-called EBALR fund, is anticipated to be in the negative by 2017-2018.

Several board members suggest finding ways to dip into the EBALR fund, which stands for Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserve, which is restricted and can only be used to pay employees for unused leave time under current contracts.

The only other purpose they can use it for is to offset the gap elimination adjustment, which for 2014-2015 is about $344,000.

It would require either permission for from state comptroller or an act of the legislature to use it for any other purpose.

Brouliette said he will research their options.

The board will hold a public budget hearing on May 13, district residents will vote to adopt it on May 20.