Oswego School Board Wrestles With Budget Plan

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego school board has challenged the superintendent to present a 2012-13 budget with zero percent tax levy increase, or better.

“A rollover budget would be $77 million. Somehow, some way, they’ve got to get that budget down to $75 million to $76 million to have a zero percent tax levy increase,” Board President said at Monday night’s budget workshop.

Superintendent Bill Crist provided board members with information regarding each building and department’s budget, which may increase next year’s budget.

“The budget supervisors, building principals, department heads and the like came back with some other requests, if you will,” Crist told the board. “They prioritized those. We’ve gone through and looked at ways that we can provide some of those items – or not.”

Under the state’s tax levy limit formula, Oswego can put out a $30.8 million, Crist said.

“It’s not a levy we’re planning to impose, it’s just a levy that they would allow us to do,” he told the board.

The numbers the state used for the formula didn’t add up for Board President John Dunsmoor.

“Somewhere, somehow, someone interrupted something wrong,” Dunsmoor said.

The board will also consider adding a referendum to this spring’s budget vote, the purchase of new buses.

Board member Sam Tripp suggested having members of the custodial staff prepare a list of the scrap metal lying around the schools. It could be sold for a little bit of revenue, he said.

“Every little bit helps,” Crist agreed.

Some of the district’s older buses will also be considered for auction.

“Health insurance is a huge driver in our budget and any ways we can look at cost savings there will help,” Crist said. He is meeting with a benefits consultant this week to look for possible options.

“Unless we really need it, I’m not looking to increase a whole lot of staff,” Tripp said. “I’m interested in maintaining what we have. I don’t want to lay anyone off.”

If you add somewhere in the budget, Dunsmoor cautioned, you have to find some place else to reduce.

“Sam hit the nail on the head regarding employees. We’re still losing kids. We can’t go increasing staff when we’re losing kids,” said board member Fran Hoefer. “I think we should put a time out on any staff increases anywhere. As a general rule, no more staff, or less in many cases. Our enrollment is still dropping. Laying off people we don’t need is logical. I don’t want to lay off anybody more than anyone else does.”

“If we don’t have any money than at the same time this list gets considered, we’d better consider a list of things that didn’t work and in that case make a cut,” Dunsmoor said of the list of considerations for budget inclusion. “We might end up at the table figuring out what we need to do to come up with a hundred grand to do what we’re doing. We haven’t seen that yet, to see if we can afford to do what we’re doing right now. Unless everybody at this table is saying, ‘whatever it takes to do this we’re going to raise taxes that much.’ That isn’t what I’m hearing.”

The “considerations” are something the budget administrators came back and said these are things they’d like the board to give some consideration to, Crist noted.

“John’s right, if we don’t have revenues that are going to be able to address this, or some of those priorities that we have already been talking about,  then why flip through (the list)?” he added. “At the same time is was important to go out have conversations with the budget administrators, see what their needs are; some of this might be a three- to five-year plan.”

Dunsmoor pointed out that the board should also have a list of some things those same people feel aren’t needed as much.

Hoefer said he’d like to give the taxpayers back some money.

Dunsmoor pointed out the last four years the tax increase was zero and then an 11 percent tax cut last year.

“We have given them a lot back,” he said.

The superintendent, based on what he hears from the board and others, will present his budget proposal on March 20.

“We want to give you some insight as to what we’ll support,” Dunsmoor told him.

He suggested using $2 million from the appropriated fund balance.

“That would bring us down to $73.7 (million),” he said.

“I’d like to try and keep a $500,000 fund balance,” Crist said.

“Build the budget to what we spend. That’s logic to me,” Hoefer added.

Other budget workshops are possible.

On April 17 the board is slated to vote on the tentative spending plan.

The public vote is set for May 15.