OSWEGO, NY – At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, Oswego Schools Superintendent Ben Halsey presented an overview of what the proposed 2014-15 budget looks like.
The best way to describe the budget process is “challenging,” the superintendent said.
Even with a 4 percent tax increase built in, there is still a $3 million gap.
The mission of the district is to empower all students to reach their full potential in the best possible engaging learning environment, he said.
He has already met with department heads, building principals and others to get their input. They have projected out what the expenses could be and the revenues they hope for, he explained.
“What we’re going to present to you tonight is considerably less than what the original proposals and projections were. You’d waste a lot of time and energy throwing that first draft out to the board. Never in my nine years of doing this has that first draft ever been the budget that actually is proposed to the voters,” he said.
“The district has undergone a myriad change in administration and ideology which stresses transparency and clear communication with all stakeholders. The superintendent and staff will continue to create an atmosphere and culture designed to promote growth in our students while maintaining fiscal priorities,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of change. And, more change is coming.”
Currently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget plan increases total by $807 million ($21.1 billion to $21.9 billion), Halsey said. While this may seem like an enormous amount of funding for school districts, the reality is that it is not enough,” he added. It is divided among the 700 public school districts in the state.
Additionally, during his tenure as governor, the state has amassed a $2 billion surplus, on the lack of public school funding, he continued.
Total state aid for the Oswego district is projected to be $224,351, Nancy Squairs, the district business manager said. It doesn’t include universal pre-K, which is actually done in another (federal) fund, she noted.
State aid for Oswego is actually less now than it was in 2008 and 2009, she said.
State aid and taxes are the primary sources of revenue for school districts, she noted.
“We have been forced to make difficult choices to balance our budget with reduced revenue,” she said. “For the coming school year, our revenues are going up only $.3 million.”
In the past three years, if all projections remain the same, the district will have used $7.7 million of its fund balance to support the budget, she added.
“By us using the fund balance or the savings account, what we have to realize is that fund is not limitless,” she cautioned the board. “The more that we dip into that, and if we don’t add to it, we’re going to be using these one-shot revenues to balance the budget.”
The district’s proposed revenues are $78.5 million and projected expenses are $81.5 million.
Raising taxes and ‘fund balancing’ their way out of budget gaps isn’t the way to go, the superintendent said.
“We need to become a more efficient district and still keep in mind the mission and goals that we have. We can do it. But everybody has to contribute,” Halsey said. “We’ve scheduled meetings next week with each of the ‘budget builders’ giving them a week to go back to their departments, back to their buildings, brainstorm ideas and then come back to meet with (the superintendent and business manager) and talk about what they think they can bring to the table that keeps or mission and goals in mind but at the same time finds efficiencies, finds reductions and contribute to closing this gap.”
They aren’t going to close the $3 million gap “without considering everything,” Halsey said. “I’m not saying the sky is falling. But I wanted to present a realistic challenge before us.”
The board or administration can’t do it in isolation, according to Halsey. “It has to be done collaboratively,” he said.
“I didn’t sign up to be a superintendent who stands up here every March and April and talk about people’s jobs. And, I’m not saying the only way we’ll get the $3 million is by (cutting) people’s jobs,” Halsey said. “But we’d be remiss if we didn’t consider everything all the way across the board; not just teaching staff, not just non-instructional staff, it’s got to be a comprehensive approach. Because your budget is a comprehensive budget – it applies to everybody.”
Budget talks will continue for the next several weeks.
The tentative budget is a fluid document, according to the superintendent, and by the time everything is said and done (including the final state budget figures), it could look quite different than it does now.