Oswego School District Continues Budget Discussions

OSWEGO, NY – Members of the Oswego City School District’s Budget Committee met with the superintendent and other administrators Thursday afternoon to work on the proposed 2013-14 spending plan.

The tentative budget, right now, is $78, 402,453. It will be recommended to the school board on March 26.

It would be proposition #1 when people go to the poll in May. Proposition #2 is to replace 12 buses ($999,790 – $670,859 state aid).

The district wants to buy seven 66-passenger buses ($747,898); two three-quarter ton seven-passenger Suburbans ($79,034); two 30-passenger buses with AC ($104,540); and one 30-passenger wheelchair bus with AC ($68,318).

There would be no impact on the budget proposal and minimal impact on debt service expenses, according to Bill Crist, superintendent.

District officials are continuing to working on the budget plan.

They are looking to make some reductions where services might overlap and other “soft cuts,” according to the superintendent.

“Whenever we can, we try to make ‘soft cuts,’ cuts that are presently vacant positions at this point,” he explained.

“I think it’s important that we try to plan for retirements. Do we really need those positions? When a position becomes vacant, we will look at whether we fill it and how we fill it,” Crist said.

The budget priorities that they are looking at include program preservation, with appropriate staffing; health and safety of students and staff; efficiency of operations; 2% tax levy cap vs. tax levy limit; and the 2013-14 appropriated fund balance limit.

The superintendent noted several “points of pride” in the district. They include continued improvements in graduation rates, technology enhancements, the New Vision program, college/career opportunities and others.

The Big Picture School is a “budget priority,” but is also a “point of pride,” Crist said.

In the coming school year, the district is looking to upgrade the facility as well as facilitate program growth.

“Eventually, it will be a (grades) 7-12 alternative program for students who just do not find success in a traditional school setting,” Crist added. “We’re very excited about that.”

Other priorities are: the developmental component of Universal Pre-K, continue implementation of the Race To The Top program, and capital improvements.

“A couple things that we’ve looked at to try to set the tone for how we move our budget forward; we have settled contracts with one of the largest groups, the CSEA, and also the Central Office Administrative group (COASA). We are presently negotiating with OCTA (the teachers’ association) and soon with the principals (AAP) as well,” he said. “It will help provide some stability for future plans for budget development.”

They have also settled the Oswego Harbor (steam plant) and Indeck (co-gen plant next to the former Hammermill site) litigation, regarding their tax certiorari challenges he added.

Pending negotiations with Constellation nuclear will likely open following the next school year.

“I’ll be very honest with you. I was extremely disappointed with the Governor’s proposal for the (state) budget. Politically, I think he got out there and said, ‘I am increasing education aid by 4%. When you look at what that resulted in for our school district, it’s actually a loss of 4.9% when you include building aid in that,” Crist said.

“I was very disappointed in how the governor presented that in a sense that, we did everything that we were required to do to complete the negotiations and get the approval of all of the bargaining units, the teachers and principals, for the new evaluation tools that have been put into place. That was the carrot hanging over all school districts; with the understanding that when we did that we would be part of this increase, by 4%, of the education funding that the state and the Governor were proposing,” he continued. “So, as it rolled out, we met all of our deadlines. The Governor comes back with a proposal that shows we are actually losing money when you factor in building aid. We’re quite disappointed in that.”

State aid this school year is $15,101,894. The proposed figure is $15,340,169. However, the building aid numbers are $3,865,812 and $3,533,962, respectively.

“They base (building aid) on our evaluation of all property. They factor in a certain portion of the Constellation PILOT agreement. It went up, our total value went up by over $200 million or about 11%,” explained Jim Southard, the district’s business manager. “So, that means you aid ratio goes down.”

“It’s a good problem to have, in a way. But locally we get whacked,” Crist said. “When you look at our district compared with other districts with similar combined wealth ratios, the amount that we receive per child is grossly under what other districts are receiving.”

The anomaly of having nuclear power generator in the district impacts the district more than any other in the state, the superintendent pointed out.

“The state’s punishing us local taxpayers because we live with the nuclear power plants,” Board President John Dunsmoor said. “We should be benefiting. We’re not getting extra from the state; all they’re doing is punishing us, giving us less than the other communities around us.”

The district is keeping any eye on retirements, this year and into the future.

Dunsmoor noted the irony of the state throwing more money at districts that aren’t doing well and bringing in less local revenues. “And then you have a community that is bringing in more tax dollars and trying to enhance their education system and (the state) takes money away from them,” he said.

Contingency Budget Effects

A contingency budget does a couple things by law, Crist said.

It eliminates all equipment requests, any student supplies typically purchased by the district, and prevents the district from allowing free use of school buildings for community groups and others (under state law, they’d have to pay to use the sites).

A contingent budget would have no impact on the tax levy, he added.

“The levy that we’re going to be setting out is a slight increase (over this school year’s). We had direction from the board to increase the tax rate by 3% and that translates into a 2.3% levy from year to year,” Crist said.

Budget Calendar

  • March 26: Full budget presentation
  • April 9: Final budget presentation and adoption by board
  • April 26: Final legal date for adoption by the board (state law)
  • May 1: Deadline for submission of petitions for nominations of board of education candidates
  • May 7: Public hearing on budget
  • May 21: Public vote