OSWEGO, NY – Members of the Oswego school board Tuesday night approved placing a referendum for 10 buses on the ballot this spring. Then, they took another whack getting the proposed $78.7 million 2012-13 school budget down to where they want it.
Superintendent Bill Crist provided board members with a brief update of what he called a “live, fluid document.”
“This is a first attempt, if you will, to present something to you that I think can help sustain some of the things that we’re doing and help grow some of the other things that we’re doing during a very difficult time in our economy,” he said.
Among his list of budget priorities are program preservation with appropriate staffing, efficiency of operations, responsible use of fund balance and elementary redistricting.
There is some potential savings due to possible retirements. Some have announced they will be retiring; others aren’t likely to come forward until April 1, the superintendent said.
“So, again because this is really a living document, a document that you won’t finalize until mid-April, we do have some times to make some moves,” Crist noted.
Some of the priorities the budget administrators would like to see in the next year’s spending plan would cause a gap of $953,951, Crist pointed out. Originally, the list totaled $4.6 million (in additional spending). In Tuesday’s version it had been whittled down to $1.5 million.
The current tax rate is $19.15. Under Crist’s plan that would jump to $19.47.
If the district followed the state’s formula for the tax cap, “the tax rate would skyrocket to $22.80.”
“We keep going on what we could do. Using what we could potentially do just because we’re allowed to … I’d rather not do that,” board member Fran Hoefer said.
“I’m not proposing that we do what we are allowed to do by law,” Crist said. “I agree, Fran. I get a tax bill every year too and pay it religiously. But, at the same time we also have a responsibility to provide the very best educational program that we can for all the students in this community.”
“I think the only reason for mentioning what we could do is to show the public that we are putting together a prudent budget. We are doing what the district needs to have done, and we’re still doing what the taxpayers want,” board member Sam Tripp said.
Hoefer, however, described it as a scare tactic.
“I’ve seen school boards, this board, punish people for defeating a budget,” he said.
“Not this board,” Crist interjected.
“Previous boards,” Hoefer continued. “When you put those kind of numbers up there, people say, ‘Oh, no. If we defeat this budget, we are going to get 22.80. I don’t want that perception out there at all. The (state) formula is irrelevant. We should be looking at a two percent cut.”
Board President John Dunsmoor said he understands that someone might see the number as a scare tactic.
“I don’t believe it was intended that way,” he said. “It was just for discussion. We don’t need that discussion in our budget; we need to focus on what we need.”
“When you read about all the other districts, it is a big part of their budget,” board member Tom DeCastro noted. “It’s good for our people to know that it’s not a big part of our budget.”
Dunsmoor said he’d like to see what the budget would look like with nothing added for the coming year and then consider what could be added without causing any hardships for taxpayers.
It would be a budget very close to the current tax rate, Crist said.
“We could sustain the present programs that we have in place. But, we could not address some of the priorities that event his board came forth and said we need to look at some of the other gaps in our programs that we need to shore up,” Crist said.
The superintendent said he will be meeting with the budget administrators again trim the list of priorities. Then he’d bring an updated proposal back to the board at its next meeting.
“If some of the gap could be closed creatively by seeing what we’ve spent, what we anticipate spending this year and what our budget number is going to be for next year, we can still keep a lot of this (list) in there,” he added.
“I think we should start building budgets on what we plan on spending,” Hoefer said. “Maybe that’s too logical for public education.”
You still have to have a little extra to pay for things that may pop up during the school year, Dunsmoor added.
“If you have 10 trucks break down or 10 people have heart attacks you better pay the bill because you have to,” he said.
“I always believe in having reserves. In my own budget, I spend less than I make. But I don’t plan my next budget based on what I wished I had the previous year,” Hoefer said.
The problem with having too much money available is that money is available, he added.
“In this system, money that is available gets spent,” he warned. “Whether we need to or not. This system encourages spending because if you spend something, you get more next year. We are enabling that putting these gigundus numbers up here.”
“We have an obligation to the taxpayers to maintain the infrastructure of our buildings, we’ve got equipment that’s breaking down and needs to be replaced,” Tripp said. “We have to look at these things; we have to consider them.”
“If we work as a group and try to put a budget together that is responsible and that addresses infrastructure and needs and also the instruction of our students in this community, I think those are important pieces,” Crist told the board.
The preliminary budget hearing is set for March 27. The board will vote on the proposal at its April 17 meeting.
The budget goes to the voters on May 15.