A recent budget meeting of the Lake Shore Central Schools Board of Education was somber in tone as the board discussed ways that the district could somehow bridge a $1.5 million shortfall in funding while still drafting a budget that would pass with local residents.
The current preliminary budget for the district’s 2013-14 fiscal year is approximately $54 million, representing a budget increase of $867,622. Superintendent James Przepasniak stated near the start of the meeting that the district receives approximately 65 percent of its funding through state and federal aid, and that the rest of the revenue budget, made up through property taxes, would likely be around $16 million. A 1 percent tax levy increase would raise about $159,000 for the school district, and Assistant Superintendent Dan Pacos said that the district would need to raise the tax levy by 9.46 percent, well over the 2.35 percent state maximum increase, to raise the money required to maintain its current level of educational services.
The board discussed possible cuts from a list prepared by the administrative staff of almost twenty different budgetary items. These include the district-wide elimination of the ALPHA program for gifted achievers as well as reduced funding for educational conferences, staff development courses, elementary science kits and transportation funding for all field trips. Staffing cuts include a layoff of one high school teacher as well as a three FTE credit reduction at Lake Shore High School, three FTE reduction at Lake Shore Middle School and one FTE credit reduction at the district’s Family Support Center. This would result in fewer electives in many different departments at the high school and fewer honors and academic intervention (AIS) courses at the middle school. The central office administrative staff also offered to undergo a voluntary salary freeze for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Other possible cuts include a $50,000 reduction in the technology budget, which would delay scheduled laptop and laptop cart purchases, and $15,000 cut from both the textbook and athletics budget. Although cuts to athletics could include a team or two and some staff reduction, Superintendent Przepasniak said that the cuts still allow the district to run its modified, junior varsity and varsity sports programs. The budget for supplies and materials could be cut by $45,000, largely through bulk purchasing and shared services with other districts. Even if all of the identified cuts were made, the district would still need a 3.98 percent tax levy increase to bridge the gap between its revenues and expenditures.
The board sees additional problems on the horizon. Przepasniak stated during discussion that, even if this shortfall is met, the district would be having a very similar discussion next year. The $1.5 million shortfall also doesn’t take into account the $4 million tapped from a capital reserve fund to even bridge the gap that far. Multiple board members, including President Jennifer Wackowski, maintained that the reserve fund would be dry in two or three years, resulting in even more drastic shortfalls. “Two to three years from now, we could be talking about an entire athletic department, or art or music,” said board member Carmen Garozzo. “We cannot rely on taxpayers any longer.”
A major culprit in this situation, as identified by Assistant Superintendent Pacos and other board members, is the gap elimination formula instituted by New York State. State-wide educational aid was frozen four years ago in an attempt to balance the state’s overall budget, and although state school districts were told it would last only one year, the aid freeze continues without any indication that it will end anytime soon. Pacos estimates that the gap elimination formula is costing the district $4.7 million in state aid this year, about 9 percent of the proposed budget, and $18 million over four years. “That’s the bottom line, you can’t take 9 percent away every year from anything and still have what you started after four years,” Pacos said.
Other board members seemed to agree that the monetary woes were largely out of the district’s hands. “It’s ironic that we are one of 12 state school districts to get a grant for cutting costs,” said board member Richard Vogan. Even though everyone acknowledged that cuts need to be made, many board members were leery of going too deep with them. “This is more than just tightening the belt,” said board member Carla Thompson. “This is cutting off pieces of ourselves.”
State budget election rules also put Lake Shore Central in a bind when it comes to passing the budget. Two years ago, a tax levy increase cap of 2.35 percent was instituted for all public school districts in New York State. If a district needs to raise the tax levy more, the budget must pass by a supermajority of 60 percent of voters. If the budget vote fails once, the district only gets one chance to amend the budget for a vote. If a second vote fails, Lake Shore Central would have to fund the entire $1.5 million shortfall through budget cuts and could not raise the property tax levy at all, cutting even further into services. The Lake Shore Central community is home to a population of about 18,000; with only 1,800 families currently sending children to district schools, and a large portion of the community living on fixed income, the board worried that any property tax increase would be highly unpopular with voters. “What’s the magic number” that gets the budget to pass, asked Przepasniak. “That’s the dilemma.”
The board will reconvene to discuss the issue further at a work session on Monday, April 15. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Lake Shore High School Media Center. Superintendent Przepasniak told the board at the start of the meeting that he had just received a memo from state educational authorities that the state legislature may increase their educational aid package by $300 million state-wide. If this measure passes, the district may have more state funding to work with, but the superintendent did not think that the district would know until April 8 at the earliest. Lake Shore Central must have the budget completed for board approval by its next regular meeting on Tuesday, April 16.