By: Bill Foley, OCT Contributing Writer
OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego City School District Board of Education heard its first draft of the 2015-16 budget on Monday night with a presentation by Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey and Business Administrator Nancy Squairs.
Halsey said, “ This is the first public look. It is challenging and continues to be a challenge. This is a snapshot of a draft proposal for the board of education to consider.”
The Oswego City School District has until April 24 to formulize the budget as it needs to be approved by that date in order to follow the requirements for the May 19 vote.
Halsey noted, “We have some time, but there is a lot to do.”
The superintendent focused on three areas including the Governor’s executive budget, state aid and district expense projections.
Halsey said, “We usually have the state aid number by early February, but there are still no state runs and not a single penny has been allocated to the school districts at this time.”
He explained there were political dynamics in Albany with the senate and assembly involved and noted that districts still need to work with the tax cap boundaries despite having no finance information from the state.
Squairs said that there should be a slight increase in state aid, but it was unclear in what manner it would come to the district.
However, Halsey explained that the executive budget could mean increases state wide of $377 million or $1.6 billion, but there is no determination how any increase would be divided throughout the state.
Halsey reviewed the governor’s mandates if the $1.6 billion number was instituted. For the additional funding and these included teacher evaluation, teacher tenure time, increase of charter schools by 100, actions relating to failing schools, close teacher training programs , encourage cities to apply for mayoral control and expedite hearings on teacher discipline.
He reviewed the state aid that has been withheld from Oswego due to the gap elimination adjustments. The total money withheld from the Oswego City School District since 2011 is just more than $11.8 million.
Squairs said there is no revenue projection at this time in this year’s budget as two pieces accounting for 68% of budget aren’t available.
She explained that there is a need for state aid numbers and the financial arrangements with the nuclear power plants whether they will be on the tax rolls or in a payment in lieu of taxes agreement are key items to assist in the formulation of the revenue side of the budget.
Halsey said that the major expense projections indicated the district would have a commitment of $85.8 million compared to the current $79.9 million.
The major areas of increases included health insurance ($2 million increase), legal fees ($1.5) with the majority of that to deal with a major challenge from the nuclear power plants as well as debt service ($1 million), and contractual ($1 million).
There was a significant decrease in the ERS-TRS (employee-teacher retirement) contributions as estimated costs.
One of the major problems the district faces is the tax levy which see-saws from the time the nuclear power plants are on and off the tax rolls.
”This roller coaster ride is bad for school districts as the tax levy fluctuates significantly and it impacts the aid flow,” Halsey said.
He also explained this see-saw activity provides a view that Oswego is a “wealthy district” when in reality it is not.
“We need to come up with a financial plan to ride out how the money fluctuates due to the nuclear power plant “ arrangement, he said.
There are so many unknowns that Halsey did not talk about reductions of staff at this time. He indicated that there was a substantial cutback in staff last year.
He said he could have talked more about the aspects of the budget, but noted, “It would not be fair to youngest employees to put the worst case scenario up there as there are many decisions which are anticipated during the upcoming week. The expenditure side is still a working document. There are just too many unknowns that we need to figure out.”
The superintendent said there would, “Probably be a need for a special meeting and I will have further information at the next board of education meeting.”
He encouraged the public to contact him at his office with any concerns, he can be reached at 341-2001.