Oswego School Board Continues Budget Debate

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego school board is trying to rein in a “runaway train.”

The Oswego City School District’s administrative team continues to seek ways to close an estimated $4.7 million gap in the proposed 2011-12 budget.

The proposals could erase approximately $2 million of the gap, Superintendent Bill Crist noted at Tuesday’s board of education meeting.

It’s difficult to come up with firm budget numbers at this time since it’s unknown how much state aid the district will receive and the amount Nine Mile I and II nuclear plants will pay in taxes, Crist and Pete Colucci, the district’s business manager, told the board members.

The superintendent distributed some information, regarding the budget update, they have done since the last meeting with board members.

“We will have a more involved discussion with budget issues on Feb. 8, which is the next (finance) committee meeting. We are early into the process and actually have responded to the board’s desire to try and move this along as quickly as possible,” Crist said.

The health insurance costs, both for active and retired employees, and also the pension costs “are the runaway train” that will continue to be a sore spot of OCSD and many other districts, Crist told the board.

The health insurance costs are likely to see a 12 percent annual rate increase, he added.

Over the span of the next 10 years, you’re looking at health insurance costs of in excess of $37 million, Crist said.

“As a school district, we’re here to educate children. And when a budget for a school district has $37 million for health insurance for active and retired employees you can’t continue to sustain that type of growth,” Crist said. “In the big picture, looking at health insurance and also looking at contributions to pensions is two areas that we really need to get a better handle on.”

“We’re obviously going to need more than 12 percent from the employees. We need a bigger share of the burden picked up by the employees,” board president Dave White said. “And, less of the burden picked up by the taxpayers. We can’t go on like this without bankrupting everything. We have to make that clear to everybody.”

If the district continues to spend that kind of money (on health and pensions), “then the kids in the classroom are going to be the ones who are going to suffer,” he added.

The loss in state aid could be a bit more or a bit less than current projections, the superintendent said. However, he added that given the state’s fiscal mess it is highly unlikely the district would see an increase in state aid for the coming school year.

“We are working toward eliminating the gap. We’re not there yet,” he said. “We are looking at a number of options. We have some work to do yet.”

If administrators would present the board with a zero gap budget plan as soon as possible, it would “give us time to absorb what we know is not going to be a pleasant thing. And, if there was ways to be creative, or if we could put things back in we want time to make those calls,” said board vice president John Dunsmoor (who also chairs the finance committee).

“We will work and try to get a full-blown budget done as quickly as we can. But, typically, we are still working in it in the middle of April,” Colucci explained. “The superintendent presents the budget on March 23, and then that’s revised again and you present a budget for the board to resolve and review again.”

“We’ve got some hard decisions to make, not just for today but for tomorrow and the day after that,” White said.

The next board meeting is set for Feb. 22.