OSWEGO, NY – Even with some extra funds that have recently come to light, Dr. Dean Goewey, superintendent, said the 2016-17 Oswego City School District budget will involve “some heavy lifting.”
Expounding on a recent external audit of the district that showed $1.1 million was available, Dr. Goewey said at Tuesday’s school board meeting at Kingsford Park Elementary, “The first thing is that we are moving forward into a new school year and as always focus on our mission – our kids are fully prepared and life ready, and that’s all students.”
The district needs to be student-centered; every decision of the day is based on the students, what’s the best for the kids, he added.
“It was reported that there was this ’found money’ of $1.1 million. I could argue that that money was not ‘found.’ That money was generated through conservative fiscal management,” he said. “We kept our eye on the ball from November 2015 until the end of the budget year.”
They are hopeful that their efforts, along with some other initiatives put into place as the district headed in to the 2016-17 budget development in late November, would allow the district to enjoy some opportunity that would provide some monies for the 2017-18 budget.
“That found money or the money that we generated through conservative fiscal management includes some of the efforts of the district during the second half of the school year, the superintendent said.
Among those efforts, he said were: Central office restructuring, some costs were lower than anticipated, the district had a very good year in its self insured health program that allowed it to have some savings, positions weren’t refilled because of the restructuring of the district, decrease in utility costs, a change in legal counsel and an unanticipated increase in Title 1 funding.
“So, you can see that the fund balance increase or what some refer to as a budget surplus was not ‘found money,’” he explained
The second piece that wasn’t as clearly touched on during the external auditor’s report is the reserve account history, he said.
The current budget had a portion of five different reserve accounts from the district – Workmen’s Compensation, Insurance, Employee Retirement System, Liability Insurance and the Tax Certiorari Account.
The superintendent and board at the time felt there would be a need for those particular amounts of money during the 2015-16 school year, he said.
However, he continued, regulations say that if a district uses reserve account numbers embedded into their budget, they can only have those monies if the general fund line in that budget is exhausted and there is a need to do so.
The amount of money that is over the cap must be applied directly to the 17-18 budget, he explained of the $1.1 million.
Last year, they sought to create a completely revenue based budget
The district may not commit to that this budget season “because we have a very heavy left in 17-18,” Dr. Goewey said.
“I feel a lot better than I did a year ago. But, I’m still very concerned about the state of our finances moving forward. We do have reserves, we do have designated reserves,” he said.
If the district applied the $2.9 million from the previous superintendent’s reserve accounts from the 15-16 budget that went largely unused and the $1.1 million budget surplus from 15-16, the district still faces a challenge in 2017-18, he said.
‘There will be a $4 million decrease in the Nine Mile one and two PILOT. We know that we have to face four separate bargaining negotiations. All of our bargaining units and all of our contract employees took salary freezes for 16-17. Every employee contributed to the heavy lift that we had to get to balance the budget.”
The district has to bargain in good faith it has to be a give and take, the superintendent said, adding, “That’s a moving piece that we can’t predict. We feel good about it, but it will probably cost some dollars.”
Another challenge is the increase in operating costs, historically that is 2 to 3 percent per year.
Instability is the state aid formula is another challenge.
“We may not enjoy as much of the state aid increase as we would like,” he said.
He will work with state legislators to get Oswego back to where it should be, “which is not receiving half of what Fulton and Central Square received in state aid last year,” he added.
Dr. Goewey noted that the governor has requested all state departments submit flat budgets.
“That indicates to us that he is concerned about the state budget,” he said.
The superintendent said the upcoming school budget will focus on making students fully prepared, instruction and that includes athletics, music and extra compensatory things and clubs.
“We all want everything back. But, our focus first has to be on instruction. If you add up the potential costs of the challenges, you can see that the district’s need is greater than $4 million, Dr. Goewey said. “So what we have is some reserve accounts that went unused that were allocated to 15-16 that we may again enjoy using to build our budget as well as the budget surplus of $1.1 million.”
“We dug deep into many instructional programs because in the 11th hour we had to balance a budget based on revenues alone. We dug deep into instruction programs in elementary, we made elementary teacher cuts. I would argue that we dug too deep into special education. I would argue that we dug too deep into English. Some would argue that we dug too deep into guidance.”
He also cited deep cuts into CSEA positions.
“So there is still a heavy lift to come,” he cautioned.