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No Revenues Known For Oswego School Budget; Expenditures Up Nearly $6 Million

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.

6 Comments

  1. In a real business, when you have uncertainties regarding revenues, you hold your expenses at bay so that you are covered based upon the worst case scenario. How in the world can these people really present expenses in excess of 6 MILLION over the previous year? How can a 7.3% budgetary increase be justified when inflation is nowhere near this rate, AND student enrollment continues to decline? The taxpayers are not a bottomless pit. Start making the cuts such that there is zero tax increase even if the lowest case scenario materializes with the nuclear plants and the state aid. This budget proposal as it stands is a cool $22,500 per student. In ten years, the budget has gone up by $30 million, the enrollment has gone down by 1200 students, and the cost per student has more than DOUBLED. We are paying teachers fresh out of college over 55 grand to work half a year!!!

    Please people vote NO! The taxpayers cannot absorb any more!

  2. Cut positions now. If the money comes throiugh then reinstate the positions. The gravy train left the station in the 90’s people……..time to cut exoenses.

  3. I agree these teachers are way over paid, look at there salaries, most are around $100,000 its crazy , and then there are the husband ,wife teams , so double it. the cow is dry !!!!!!!

  4. In a real business, if the projected revenue is less than expenses, the expenses need to be examined and cut. The superintendant has stated that salaries and fringes make up the top expense lines so that’s where he needs to start. The contracts need to be opened and renegotiated. Full-time salaries for part-time empoyees is the current reality. The contract stipulates that teaches at OHS need only be in the building during instructional hours- from 0725 to 1435- at total of 7 hours and 10 minutes. Take away a 42 minute lunch and you’ve got a “full-time” employee working less than 6.5 hours per day (work done outside of school hours is known but not quantifiable.) Additionally, with a school calendar of 186 days per year, the staff gets many days off- paid vacations, personal days, sick days. These benefits need to be compared as well. Health insurance costs need to be examined. The taxpayers at the top of the district’s org chart are paying large percentages of their income for their own health benefits. Gone are the days of 100% coverage for anyone except those in the public sector. This needs to be eliminated for current and retired employees and families. We simply cannot affort to keep this going.

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