Last week the Marlboro School Board began the process of compiling a budget for the 2020-21 school year. Superintendent Michael Brooks started the discussion by promising there will be no increase in the budget for next year; it will remain at the 2019-20 level of $58,363,438.
In a slide presentation Rosanne Mele, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Personnel, laid out the highlights of the budget development process in the coming months. She said this year the administration began with a zero based budgeting model that started by reviewing all existing expenses and departments, “to look where the money is going and how can we budget more prudently.”
Mele said they have to consider salaries and benefits and look at the expiring contracts in the 2020-21 school year. In addition, the labor and transportation contracts are due to expire at the end of June, calling these, “some unknowns with creating a budget that we’re working with.”
Mele said every year there are potential retirements and salary breakage that affect a new budget. She added that final state aid amounts will not be known until April 1 when the state passes their budget.
Mele said another variable is the BOCES charges for Special Education and regular education students as well as enrollment of in-district and out-of-district Special Education students.
Mele noted that the state aid package from the Governor for the current school year was $16,121,629. The proposed package for the district for next year is $16,491,552, a 2.29% increase of $369,923.
Mele touched upon the tax cap calculation; in 2019/20 the actual tax levy was $35,686,305 and the allowable tax cap increase for next year is 1.22%, bringing a potential levy to $36,086,853.
Mele said at the February 20 meeting the board will discuss turning the Athletic Trainer position into a district employee instead of contracting that out; increasing the number of student clubs and having summer programs at the High School be allowed for credit recovery. She said they will closely monitor Special Education needs and will look at Kindergarten Teaching Assistants.
Mele presented a 5 year fiscal outlook of the district. She said in the past the district spent about 92% of the overall budget, which they want to increase to 93.5%. In addition she has anticipated that state aid will grow by 1% and the levy will be at a 2% cap.
Besides keeping a zero budget increase for 2020-21, Mele said the anticipated expenses for the district will hit $54,569,815 with revenues coming in slightly higher at $54,857,195. She said they expect to use $3,506,243 in appropriated fund balance, which brings the total budget for next year the same as this year. There is also a projected $287,380 surplus in 2020-21, because of the zero-based budgeting.
Superintendent Brooks said it is relatively easy to make projections for the following year but the farther out you go, the more challenging it becomes. He pointed out that for the current school year the board approved using $4.6 million of fund balance to balance the budget, calling that, “too much, it’s too high.” He said the challenge in the coming years is to keep the use of the appropriated fund balance at about $3.5 million.
“Consulting with our auditors and our financial gurus that’s the right number for our district,” he said. “That is the fund in your budget in case there is something catastrophic that occurs, you have that money that shouldn’t be spent unless it’s an extreme need; so planning well you usually don’t have those but in case there is, the money is there.”
Mele said March 1 is the deadline for submitting the tax levy limit calculation to the state. On April 16 the BOCES budget votes takes place and the board also votes to adopt their 2020-21budget. The public vote on the final budget is scheduled for May 19 at the Marlborough Town Hall from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
During the budget discussion Superintendent Brooks said he feels that the states distribution of Foundation Aid is not equitable among school districts. He said the amount of the aid that a district receives is primarily based on the school’s total enrollment and the district’s wealth – individual family and property wealth.
“Those are the cornerstones on how it is calculated and there is a formula to it so the state has some matriculation that they use to calculate out how much each school district gets,” he said.
Brooks said when the economy “fell apart” in 2009, Governor Cuomo stopped using the formulae to distribute the Foundation Aid and instead established a five tier system.
“If you apply a formula everybody is equal on the outcome then [but] if you apply the formula as it is there are school district’s like Marlboro that are getting 59% of what the formula says we’re supposed to get. There are school districts in this region [Onteroa, Rondout Valley, Greenwood Lake, Kiryas Joel, Tuxedo], that are getting 100% of what the formula says there supposed to get, regardless of the tier that they’re in,” he said. “The formula is not used but it’s supposed to be by law. Each year the Legislature and the Governor override the formula with a new tier format.
Brooks said Marlboro’s 59% equates to $7,652,374 for the present school year. This is an increase of only $1.1 million compared to the $6.5 million that Marlboro received in the 2011-12 school year.
Brooks is constantly trying to rectify this inequity.
“We are seeking guidance, seeking assistance and seeking relief from our elected officials,” he said. “NYS Senator Skoufis and NYS Assemblyman Jacobson know this like the back of their hand because I have spoken to them as many times as I possibly could about it and are continuing to push for us to get this formula righted.”
Brooks said if the formula was used instead of the tier system, Marlboro would receive an additional $5.4 million in Foundation Aid on top of the $7.6 million that they currently receive, for a total of $13,052,374.
Brooks said the district does not have a spending issue but instead a revenue issue. He said back in 2011-12 Danskammer and Roseton paid a combined annual amount in school taxes of $17.7 million, however, by 2019-20 their combined total dropped to $3.8 million. He said the district did receive some emergency state aid in the 2013 to 2015 time frame to fill the shortfall but that is now exhausted.
Brooks said Skoufis and Jacobson understand the problem and fully support and advocate for the Marlboro School District but it is ultimately up to the Governor to fix this long-standing problem.