OSWEGO, NY – Like a jigsaw puzzle with its outer edges in place, the Oswego City School District’s 2011-12 budget’s center is slowly taking shape.
Wednesday night’s meeting of the Finance Committee was used as a budget workshop for the entire school board. Only Fran Hoefer didn’t attend.
“This year’s budget that we are operating in is $74,848,000. What we are proposing for next (school) year is a budget of $74,534,000, depending on some of the ‘put backs’ and other things. I just want to note that (the proposed budget) is $300,000 less than what we are spending today,” Superintendent Bill Crist pointed out. “That’s despite health insurance costs that we’re projecting to be $1.1 million more than where we are. We have employee retirement and teacher retirement costs of over $1.2 million more. Any proposal that brings reduction of staff or programs is something that weighs heavy on everybody that has to make that decision.”
Everyone that has offered input for the next budget has done so with an interest to provide programs that the community will be proud of and wants to continue to have and also do it at a cost that the community is able to support, he continued.
The tax levy would increase by 2 percent under the current option being considered.
School Board Vice President John Dunsmoor, chair of the finance committee, told Crist and the other administrators involved in the budget process to have a tentative spending plan in place ready for discussion at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting.
The 2011-12 budget will likely include cuts in equipment, supplies and staffing.
However, it won’t include reconfiguring or closing any elementary schools. That is “off the table” for the coming year, Crist said.
It is something the school board should consider for the 2012-13 school year, he added.
“We would better balance the population in each of the elementary schools and allow for class sizes to be balanced within the guidelines we have been working under for the last several years,” Crist told the board members.
The pre-K through sixth grade, without a redistricting plan, seems like the best option currently, he added. The Finance Committee members agreed and will recommend the entire board consider that option.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Peter Colucci said the district “did better in state aid than expected.”
Instead of facing a $2.2 million cut, it is $1.6 million.
The district plans to restore approximately $951,000 in unused federal stimulus funds from the current school year, Colucci added.
According to Dunsmoor, the school board will decide exactly how those funds will be used.
“Do you want it to go toward the taxpayers, our bank account or putting some of (the programs/staff) back into our education system?” he asked the other board members present.
That money is a one-time revenue, Crist pointed out.
“It is only going to be sitting there for the 11-12 budget. We certainly have to plan, project out, how we’re going to make up that loss in the 12-13 budget,” he said.
Over the course of the past week, administrators have looked at ways of closing the $3.3 million gap, Crist said.
Based on the reductions under consideration, Crist said the district has closed the gap.
“We believe that we have a surplus, or a cushion that we built into the reductions that we’ve made and want to be cautious, look at that and go back and check our own math,” the superintendent said.
It may be possible to restore some things, he added.
“We got a notice last week that the contribution for the district (to the Teacher’s Retirement System) would be $11.1 million as opposed to $11.5 million. We also got a recalculation of our health insurance. We were a little nervous about this,” Crist said. “Originally we had a 15 percent projection. Our consultants are now saying that we can go as low as 8 percent on that increase. So, that brings the appropriation down to $1.15 million in terms of an increase there.”
The budget process is “fluid and moving, even as we’re sitting here” and numbers are subject to change, the superintendent pointed out, adding “It’s Feb. 9 and we’ve just received numbers (from the state).”
“We’re trying to preserve programs and, in fact, enhance programs and do it at a cost that that our community is able and willing to pay and to support,” Crist said. “We are all working to make this the best budget that we can under very, very trying times.”