FULTON, NY – Superintendent Brian Pulvino presented his first Fulton City School District official budget draft at a board of education meeting held Monday (March 20) since beginning his position with the district this school year.
In its earliest draft form, the 2017-18 school budget totals $70,542,921 showing a $206,421 increase from the 2016-2017 budget, a difference of 0.29 percent.
However, property owners within the district will see a reduction in taxes after following the state property tax cap calculation resulted in a tax levy of $20,307,853; a change of -1.34 percent after a decrease in tax revenue of $275,210 that the district’s director of finance, Kathy Nichols said was “a little bit of a shock.”
The district’s debt service is a large contributing factor in regards to the tax cap. Having just paid off roughly $1 million in debt service played large part in generating a negative tax levy, Pulvino explained.
A super majority vote from eligible district voters, meaning 60% or more in favor, could hold the tax levy to zero percent, however, Pulvino recommended against such action on the basis that a super majority will have other ramifications on taxpayers such as the forfeit of rebate checks.
While the budget development began off a rollover version of the previous budget, meaning all positions and programs roll into the next budget with no changes, the possibility of cutting employment positions is a potential, though Pulvino will strive to ensure no employees are forced to leave the district, he said.
A total of 14 full-time positions throughout the district are either retiring or resigning, with the addition of only one full time technology position effective for the 2017-18 school year.
The number of teaching positions at the kindergarten through second grade level remain dependent on class sizes.
For class sizes of 20 students, two additional elementary positions will be needed. In contrast, class sizes of 23 would allow the reduction of two elementary positions.
The first draft of the budget was based on the latter option, incorporating the reduction of two elementary positions.
Additionally, a decreasing enrollment trend at the Fulton Junior High School would allow for the reduction of one “team,” composed of four full time teachers.
However, Pulvino was adamant that district officials are working with union officials to exhaust all possible opportunities for the positions in jeopardy to relocate throughout the district based on individual certifications and vacancies within the district.
“Of course our goal is to have no one unemployed. We are looking to utilize those vacancies and existing positions and also working with unions to see how to work through and places to match up. We are really exploring all options while ensuring that our kids have everything they need,” Pulvino said.
The budget will incorporate other new requests including expanding Farnham services to address increasing social and mental health needs, installing Board Docs, expanding distance learning from just virtual field trips at present to online course opportunities when needed, expanding P-Tech in it’s second year from $35,000 to roughly $100,000 for all districts in the county, increasing access to technology at the elementary level as well as additional funding necessary to facilitate increasing transportation demands.
Proposed state aid has shown an increase of 3.9 percent over the 2016-17 budget, however, after allocating aid to its specific categories such as early childhood and community schools, the formula-based school aid sees an increase of 1.7 percent.
Despite proposed state aid totaling $46,209,415 district officials still found themselves at a shortfall of more than $2 million based on the roll ahead budget. After adding intended use of reserves and assigned fund balance, the shortfall remained at nearly $1 million.
“How do you find close to one million dollars and ensure kids are getting everything they need, that our staff are getting the support that they need, that we keep our programs and our resources in the right places and moving in the direction that we need to, which is to ensure that we fulfill our vision to become the most improved small city school district not only in the state but in the country?” Pulvino questioned.
To accomplish that, reallocating money when possible, staffing changes that reduce the total number of positions by relocating positions where possible, decreasing benefits as a result, decreasing aid hours, and others, district officials managed to cover a majority of the shortfall.
Without using reserves or assigned fund balance, the shortfall would total $1,625,653 which is an equitable amount to the total use of reserves and assigned fund balance used to balance the current school year’s budget last year.
“This is without using any plan of reserves, now we’re back down to the 1.625 (million.) Right now, in education and where we’re at, getting us back down to where we were starting this year is better, a good place to start from,” Pulvino said.
However, adding in the intended use of reserves totaling $700,000 and assigned fund balance totaling $925,653; the remaining shortfall is completely covered.
Nichols explained the difference between reserves and assigned fund balance, both parts of the district’s general fund balance.
Reserves is money reserved for very specific purposes such as unemployment, insurance, employee retirement for non-instruction employees, etc. whereas assigned fund balance is much like a “rainy day” fund, she said.
The planned use of reserve funds will go toward the specific purposes intended of them, in this case using roughly $550,000 of the employee retirement reserve and $150,000 of the employee benefit accrued liability reserve.
The assigned fund balance amount will be assigned to be revenue with the intent to balance the budget.
“If you continually decide to spend more than you can raise from taxes and state aid, you can’t live like that forever, eventually it catches up to you,” Nichols said, however, she added that the district is at a better place this year while employees throughout the district continue to make efforts to keep spending down.
Over the past three years, the district’s general fund balance has decreased from roughly $13.5 million to $10.5 million, a balance that Nichols still considers “reasonable.”
“In 2015, it got down to $9.6 million, but went back up $500,000 because of the Smart Schools Bond Act, which is good. We improved a half a million dollars but we continue to use from our general fund. You can’t build a budget using reserves over and over again,” Pulvino said.
A more accurate version of the district budget will be possible if a timely state budget emerges as anticipated by the April 1 deadline, with district officials hopeful that state aid may come in higher than anticipated after encouraging meetings with state representatives.
Overall, Pulvino said he finds the budget to be “fair.”
“Any time you’re having to look at prioritizing and making difficult decisions it’s challenging but we always stay focused with our students at the center of all decisions. For starting with a budget using reserves, our team has done a good job looking at all possibilities. I’m looking forward to gaining feedback and presenting the final budget in April,” he said.
Pulvino is confident that the 2017-18 budget will be able to maintain the district’s academic progress that has been seen such as the 7% increase in graduation rate, 5% increase in students reaching proficiency on the NYS 3-8 ELA assessments, 10% increase over two years in the number of students reaching proficiency on the NYS 3-8 math assessments as well as maintaining behavioral progress with 90% of students having zero or one major referral and attendance improvements with 81% of students at 90% or greater attendance.
The board will act on the budget’s adoption after a final presentation on April 11 and a public hearing will be held May 3 before the budget will go to vote by the public on May 16 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Fulton War Memorial located at 609 W. Broadway.
Community members can find more information regarding the 2017-2018 budget and the opportunity to leave any comments, questions, or feedback for district officials on the district website.