Penn Yan discusses school budget
PENN YAN—With the April 4 date approaching for the school board voting on adopting the new budget, Penn Yan Central School District is looking at a spending plan $31,632,500 for the 2012-13 academic year. During the meeting on Wednesday, March 21, Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Rodger Lewis presented a final review regarding finances for the upcoming year which involved many details announced previously.
The budget for the current school year is $31,305,639. PYCSD had originally projected the rise to $31,632,500 ($326,861 increase) for 2012-13 during the previous board meeting. Lewis explained that no changes in the spending plan have occurred since then.
Superintendent David Hamilton said the district still intends to have 18.4 fewer full-time equivalent faculty positions next year. “Times are tough,” stated Hamilton. “Everyone knows it.” He added with financial economic restrictions such as higher expenditures and lack of state aid, making such changes is the best way to maintain sustainability in the school district for the future.
One issue Hamilton touched on regarding staff cuts was state mandates. In making reductions, the board needs make sure state requirements for programs are still being met. Two examples Hamilton gave revolved around the subjects of Languages Other Than English (LOTE) program and health. In both fields, the district had exceeded the state requirements. As a result, the board decided to reduce some of the classes in both fields which led to the elimination of .6 positions in LOTE and 1.4 for health.
Decrease in enrollment was another matter that contributed to faculty eliminations. According to Hamilton, the number of students enrolled in the school last year was 1,691. The amount fell to 1,628 this year and is anticipated to drop down to 1,601 for 2012-13. Hamilton mentioned a great deal of the decrease in number of students has come from the elementary school. He explained a reason for this is some students come to PYCSD for middle school after attending St. Michael’s for elementary. For the elementary school, cuts include four elementary-certified teachers, one special education instructor and seven teaching aides.
The superintendent discussed how eliminating staff is part of the tough decisions that are made during a budget process. “When we’re building a budget, it’s all about making choices,” he spoke. Hamilton gave a brief outline of how the district reached a decision on cutting staff. When PYCSD saw a $3.3 million gap at the beginning of the budget process last December, the first course of action was eliminating non-staff costs including school supplies and equipment fees. Those cuts lowered the gap to $1 million.
The number was narrowed down to $700,000 after a tax levy of two percent was implied. Hamilton explained the state has enacted a two percent tax cap law for 2012 which dictates and eight step formula school districts must use to calculate a tax levy limit. Yet, despite the name of the legislation, it is possible for the levy to be raised by more than two percent. Hamilton said PYCSD could raise the tax levy for 2012-13 by as much as 14.2 percent. Yet, Lewis noted the board still plans to keep the levy increase at two percent. Hamilton added raising the amount any further “did not seem financially prudent.” After the gap hit $700,000, Hamilton stated the only logical way to trim it further was cutting staff which is what lead to the current projections.
Lewis said one item that will not be included in next year’s budget is the purchase of four school buses. He explained Fiscal Advisors, an independent financial services firm in Syracuse, plans to help the district in finding a bank that could loan money for the purchase with the lowest possible interest rate. Lewis noted now is a good time to take out a loan to purchase buses since current interest rates range from one to 1.25 percent. He also pointed out the combined amount of travel-per-day of all of the district’s buses is equivalent to the distance from New York to California. Due to the extensive usage, it is essential to continue bringing new transportation services to PYCSD. The cost of all four buses together is $300,000. However, since money would not be borrowed before 2012-13, the first payment will not be due until the 2013-14 budget is being processed.
Once the budget is adopted, a public hearing on the spending plan must be held before a vote is taken by district taxpayers. The school board approved to hold the hearing for the 2012-13 budget on Wednesday, May 2 at 7 p.m. Voting will take place on May 15 from noon to 8 p.m. Along with the budget, residents will also be electing members for the school board.
At the end of the meeting, Lisa Garvey, a PYCSD parent and co-president of the Teacher’s Association, suggested the board look into raising the tax levy somewhere from 2.5 to three percent to negate the reductions of staff and programs anticipated for next year. Garvey explained she was looking at the matter more as a parent than a taxpayer. “We all know the district can’t stop the actions of lawmakers in Albany, but you as the board of education can consider and reconsider the loss of educational opportunities for our children as well as the possibility of raising the tax levy by half of a percent, if not a percent,” she told board members. “We could also educate our community that Albany’s two percent increase is not necessarily two percent.” Garvey also expressed concern about educational opportunities PYCSD students will have down the road. “As a parent with young children in the district, I am extremely disappointed and frustrated they won’t have the opportunities which students in the past had,” she stated.
In other business:
• Board Member Nancy Scher was recognized for receiving a New York State School Boards Association Board Achievement Award. According to School Board President Jeff Morehouse, a person serving on the school board receives the award by accumulating points, over time, for any educational involvement such as attending conferences in Albany. Board members must tally up at least 75 points to get the award. Morehouse and Hamilton presented Scher with a certificate of achievement from the state.
• Penn Yan Academy Principal Dave Pullen recognized science teacher Ann Paige for receiving the 2012 Finger Lakes Community College and Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Epsilon Chi “Distinguished Educator Award.” The award goes to an educator in each county of FLCC’s service area (Yates, Ontario, Seneca, and Wayne) for creative teaching, student engagement, and academic rigor. Pullen said Paige is someone who “makes a positive impact on every child that walks through her door.”
• Board Member Jeff Bray commended the high school drama club for the performance of the musical “Footloose” from March 8 through March 11.
• The board accepted a donation of $1,420.65 from Theresa Bodine for the Class of 2013.
• The next regular school board meeting will be on Wednesday, April 4 at 7 p.m.