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Tough budget decisions lay ahead for Schalmont officials

Jan. 21, 2016

With the release of Gov. Cuomo’s executive budget and estimated state aid amounts last week, Schalmont Central School District administrators are starting to paint a picture of the district’s 2016-17 budget, and the results are grim.

Leading up to the governor’s proposal, education groups were calling for a $1.3 billion increase to foundation aid for the 2016-17 school year. The executive budget includes an increase that is substantially less at just $266 million. For Schalmont, that resulted in a foundation aid increase of only $2,331. New York State is $4.4 billion behind on the phase-in of the foundation aid formula, and as a result, the district’s foundation aid has only increased $151,000 from the 2009-2010 school year.

Many were also hoping for an elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a takeback of money from schools enacted to balance the 2010-11 state budget and has since been included in state budgets annually. Currently, Schalmont stands to lose another $500,000 in aid because of the GEA. This would bring the district’s total loss of funding because of the GEA to more than $8.8 million. That is the equivalent of 32 percent on the tax levy.

Also, the property tax levy growth for school districts will be capped at 0.12 percent above current levels for the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to data released yesterday by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The CPI plays into the governor’s tax cap formula. The tax cap, which was instituted in 2012, limits tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2 percent with certain exceptions. Under this calculation, Schalmont is looking at a potential allowable levy increase of 0.37 percent, or $100,000.

When these factors are paired with contractually obligated expense increases such as salary, benefits, insurance premiums, district officials find themselves facing a $1.2 million budget gap.

“The lack of sufficient state aid coupled with the near 0 percent allowable tax levy increase creates a situation that will force us to make significant cuts to our programming and personnel. These types of cuts will have a direct impact on our students and their educational opportunities,” said Schalmont Superintendent Dr. Carol Pallas. “We are counting on our legislators to increase school funding in the final state budget, so that our students can continue to have access to the quality programming offered at Schalmont.”

Historically, adopted state budgets have included an increase in aid for districts over the executive budget. The deadline for adopting the state budget is April 1.

“We want the state legislature to eliminate the GEA and restore the much-needed funds to school districts such as ours,” Pallas said.

In the meantime, district officials, along with the board of education, will continue to develop the district’s 2016-17 budget and work to identify potential areas for reduction to close the budget gap. Ongoing budget discussions will be held at the regular board meetings, and the public is encouraged to attend. The next board meeting will be held Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. in the MS LGI.

Anyone wishing to serve a greater role in the process is encouraged to join the Budget Advisory Committee. The next meeting will be held Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. in the MS LGI. For more information, please contact Business Administrator Joseph Lenz at jlenz@schalmont.net.

The annual school district budget vote will be held Tuesday, May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the High School New Gym Lobby.