The Oswego City School District Board of Education voted 7-0 this morning (April 23) to approve the spending plan for the 2015-16 school year.
The $82,847,354 budget contains a lower tax increase than the draft budgets the board had been working on.
A public hearing will be held May 5 at the high school’s cafeteria.
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OSWEGO, NY – The public will have its chance to speak regarding the Oswego City School District’s 2015-16 budget next month.
However, a few residents spoke on the budget process at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Former school board member Fran Hoefer said that some classes “have three or four teachers in them.”
That gives the board the ability to either cut some teachers or increase the class sizes without harming the children, he added.
“I just want you to realize that. I don’t want to hurt the kids,” he told the board. “We have a bunch of teachers with a small number of kids. There’s some room to tweak a little bit here.”
He reminded the board of the large tax increase imposed by the city in 2014.
“This town is tapped out. This town is a disaster area. Twenty-eight percent on top of our businesses is going to kill them,” he said. “This is going to be a dead zone. I don’t want to live in a dead zone. I don’t want my kids to live in a dead zone. You guys have got to do some fundamental serious thinking about what’s impacting this budget and deal with it. There’s no more money.”
He told the board it had to make cuts. Twenty staff cuts will deal with the budget deficit, he added.
Jim Jaskula is the parent of an OHS student.
He cited the district’s technology department.
“Don’t cut the technology. That is the future. If you look at the technology that you guys are using now – it’s a great experience for the kids,” he said. “It’s real-time learning. They’re working with engineering and programming, all kinds of cool stuff.”
Former school board president John Dunsmoor said he wanted “to put a few things in perspective.”
“If you have two percent raises on approximately 35, 40 million dollars worth of employees, that’s seven, eight hundred thousand dollars increase. You’re going to save a couple million dollars in retirement contributions that previous budgets have had to put up,” he said.
State aid also accounted for $2.2 million, he added.
“With that approximately over $3.5 million windfall, I would hope that the budget could use that money wisely and keep a two to four percent tax increase in perspective. A four percent tax increase would be $1.2 million,” he said.
He suggested going on a health care plan where the district knows what its fixed cost are.
If the 28 percent tax increase goes through, compared with the city’s large increase, “In equivalent to dollars out of my pocket, your raise would be more like 60 percent raises,” he said.
The board’s biggest challenge is putting together a budget that the community can adopt, Dunsmoor said.
When he started on the board, they had less than $1 million in reserves, he said, pointing out the district now has around $11 million.
There is a cushion so that the budget doesn’t have to be balanced on the backs of the taxpayers, he said.
Following the public session, the board continued its budget deliberations.
Board member Tom DeCastro broached the idea of cutting modified sports, like the district did a few years ago.
“Maybe we do need to go another 2 to 2.5 million (into the reserves),” he said.
“Have we cut everything non-essential?” board member Sam Tripp asked.
For every five people in favor of cuts, there will be five people who say no, Superintendent Ben Halsey pointed out.
“Your view of what is essential might be different than (someone else’s). What I think we’ve done to this point; I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can make reductions that for the most part, our students will show up in September and hardly recognize the reductions that were done,” Halsey said. “The next layer, if you will, it’s going to be felt – in what we offer, in extra curricular activities, in class sizes and or courses that we offer.”
The needs to decide what it’s comfortable with as far as an expenditure number “that produces a levy that you’re comfortable with. Adopt that and then we will continue to go back to all the stakeholders and say, ‘alright, this is where we have to get.’ And, have everybody contribute further than they already have,” the superintendent continued.
Nancy Squairs, district business manager, cautioned the board that if they used all of their reserves, they’d have nothing to fall back on if something were to happen in the future.
“There would be no cushion for anything that happened in the future. You’re going to have a cliff eventually to say here is what our property taxes are today and if our revenue from the PILOT continues to decrease, your property taxes are going to increase; there is going to be a huge cliff sooner or later. That’s why you don’t want to have all these one-shot revenues into the budget. You want to be able to have a plan in order to use your reserves, but eventually build them up as well,” she told the board.
If it’s the board’s intent to get the levy less than 10 percent, Halsey said the budget makers would look at a couple different scenarios and present them Thursday morning.
The Oswego City School District will hold a special board meeting at 9 a.m. at the Education Center in the Board Room.
The proposed 2015-16 school budget discussions will continue.