Oswego School Board Disputes Financial Stress Claim

OSWEGO, NY – Even though, in the eyes of the state, the Oswego City School District is susceptible to financial stress, things are fiscally sound, district officials said.

“The comptroller’s report that listed districts in their fiscal stress monitoring, Oswego has been classified, based on their formula, as being susceptible to fiscal stress,” Superintendent Ben Halsey said at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. “They have all kinds of formulas that they use to generate that, percentages as to where we fall in. We fall mid to mid-high level to being susceptible to stress based on the comptroller’s formula.”

In a nutshell, it comes down to total fund balance that you have available in your reserves and fund balance accounts, and your useable cash on hand at any given time as a school district in comparison to your daily and long-term expenditures, he explained.

“And so there is a ratio of where we are, with what we have saved in those rainy day accounts or for those accounts that were established for very specific purposes to address needs going forward,” he said. “It’s just another form of information for us to use in monitoring ourselves.”

“I believe it was Gov. Pataki started cutting state aid (to school districts) and the reason he said he was cutting the state aid was because districts had too much money in reserve and he wanted everyone to spend down their money,” Board Vice President Sam Tripp pointed out. “So, now we’ve done that and all of a sudden we are in ‘financial stress’ because they told us to do that? Is that what I’m hearing?”

“You’re absolutely right,” the superintendent replied. “I’m not exactly sure where the line is, but there is a fine line that the state seems to think that we should have as a comfortable level of resources available.”

You have to have fund balance in order to have stability … “You cannot live paycheck to paycheck,” he added.

“When I saw the report, I really didn’t get too excited about it,” Tripp said. “That’s what they say. I don’t agree with them.”

Board member John Dunsmoor also disagreed with the state’s view.

“I strongly disagree with the whole picture. There’s got to be something else in that formula the state used as far as maybe the state aid that a school district gets compared to your budget,” he said. “We have more reserves right now than when I started on the board six years ago.”

If you take into account the stress that the district “has to negotiate with the nuke plants every three years … or even the fact of how they feel they should be appraised even year to year” puts a lot of stress on the district, he said.

“But as far as the money we have, cash in hand, we sit pretty well,” he said. “So, I guess with that explanation I don’t think it’s based on what our reserves are. As far as the money we have, cash on hand, I feel pretty good about how much we have in reserves.

The administration has already begun the budget process for the 2014-15 school year.

“We beginning to look at departments and look at programs. We’ve basically taken the budget and started from scratch,” said Nancy Squairs, district business manager. “Right now, our state aid has increased about one percent from last year or $224,000.”

It’s really too early to start discussing the numbers until the district has done all of its due diligence in the budget process, she added.