Fulton Schools Budget Aims to Keep Programs in Place, With Low Tax Hike

Keeping everything in place in the Fulton City School District for next year will cost about $3.1 million more than this year.  The trick is in filling that gap.

Fulton’s Board of Education reviewed the first draft of the budget that will be voted on by taxpayers May 21.

The goal, said Superintendent Bill Lynch, is to avoid cutting yet again into programs and services for students.  “We approached the budget with the goal of maintaining what we have,” he said.

The district is facing higher costs because of the state’s retooling of education, along with routine increases in costs for some supplies.  At the same time, the district’s increase in state aid for next year remains well below the 4% aid increase the state has promised schools.

The end result is a $65.4 million proposed budget for 2013-14 that increases spending just under $3 million — a 4.8% increase.  That increase is unfunded at the moment.

Lynch said he’d like to keep any tax levy increase at no more than 1.5%.  That only fills about $300,000 of the $3.1 million deficit.

He’s also proposing to use $2 million from two reserve funds.  That leaves about $800,000.

The path from there to a budget with no deficit is unclear.  Lynch said several days of lobbying in Albany left him with the belief that the state Senate and Assembly intend to provide much more money for education than the amount in the Governor’s budget proposal.  How much?  No one knows yet.

“Both houses are looking at redistributing money the Governor has set aside for other purposes on the education budget,” Lynch said.

He said schools such as Fulton have been lobbying hard that any extra funds go primarily to low-wealth schools.  Most of the districts in Central New York fall into that category, including Fulton.

If legislators are successful in adding state aid, Fulton will have to either cut programs or increase the use of its rapidly-dwindling reserves to make up any remaining difference.

Lynch expects to have more solid information at the board’s next meeting in two weeks, which will happen right before the April 1 deadline for state legislators to approve a new state budget.  Though the state budget is often late, there are signs it could be on time or even early this year.