The Lake Shore Central School District Board of Education began early discussions on the district’s 2013-14 budget, and early comments indicated that Lake Shore Central is facing an intimidating budget gap.
Superintendent James Przepasniak painted a pretty clear picture at the start of the board’s discussion, stating that the district faces a $2.5 million gap between anticipated expenses and revenues for the 2013-14 year.
“The district, in my opinion, does not have a spending problem,” said Przepasniak, noting that the problems do not stem from expansions, initiatives or other expenditures, but rather a reduction in the amount of state aid Lake Shore can rely on.
According to the superintendent, Lake Shore Central has lost approximately $11 million in state aid over the previous three years. The district has previously used general fund balance allocations to close gaps that had developed, but Przepasniak cautioned the board against relying too heavily on that option.
“We’ve used those savings for a rainy day, and now it’s pouring,” he said.
State assurances that refunds would be administered for district fund balance allocations used to bridge budget gaps have not been realized, he added.
A lack of state aid exists due in large part to changes in the gap elimination formula for state educational aid, which is supposed to create equal and appropriate funding levels for all state school districts. Lake Shore Central Schools have received less aid than promised since this program has existed. The district was also handed a bill by the state for $1.4 million to be paid into the state teachers’ pension plan.
“We would only be talking about a $1.1 million gap without that,” said board member Richard Vogan. “Most of our financial problems are in Albany, not here.”
Tax increases and line-item budget cuts won’t solve the problem alone. A one percent tax increase would only raise an additional $150,000, given the current tax rates. This would require a tax increase of 15 percent to close the gap, which the board can’t nor wants to pursue. Cutting into individual expenditures will likely prove as futile. Although the board could cut monies from programs, there are no simple budgetary items that could be trimmed down without cutting vital services. The $12,000 budgeted for the district’s field trips and the $20,000 budgeted for conferences were used as hypothetical examples. Lake Shore Central Schools already spends about $1,600 less per student in their budget than the state average, according to Przepasniak.
“We have been fiscally responsible,” said Przepasniak, noting that recent school audits from state officials were very positive.
He noted that the board took a big step in the right direction by approving a retirement incentive resolution, which can reduce expenditures by enticing higher paid teachers to leave their positions. “But the day has now come where we have to ask people to understand our dilemma.”
Board member Cynthia Latimore was adamant that a dialogue with the community, including all town residents, was necessary in order to address this issue moving forward. In order to avoid either significant tax increases or significant program cuts, “we need to rally everyone,” she said. “Nothing will leave this room if we don’t take it out with us.”
The board hopes that by their next work session on Feb. 5 that they’ll have more information on possible retirements as well as the governor’s proposed state budget, which informs the district’s knowledge of how much state aid they can expect to receive.