Southwestern Approves 2013-14 Budget Proposal

The Southwestern Central School District is one step closer to finalizing its 2013-14 budget.

On Tuesday, the district’s board of education approved the adoption of its proposed revenue and expenditure budget of $25,857,975; which shows an increase of $118,125 over the 2012-13 budget.

The budget proposal shows a foundation aid increase of 8.14 percent over this year’s budget. Although the foundation itself increased by $21,175, the increase is largely due to a $417,272 restoration in the district’s gap elimination adjustment.

“We’re certainly not where we need to be, but I think we’re in a better spot than we have been,” said Maureen Donahue, Southwestern superintendent. “(This is) the first time we’ve seen that much movement on our foundation aid through the gap elimination amount. So next year, we’re going to start with a $1.2 million gap elimination amount. The hope is, over the next couple of years, they’ll get rid of gap eliminations. “

The proposal also showed a tax levy limit, with exclusions, of $12,393,340-a 2.56 percent, or $308,792, increase over last year. According to Scott Hoot, school business administrator, this calculation takes into account a $14,346 pension smoothing exclusion, which the district has yet to adopt.

“A modifying factor that has played heavily into all school districts’ tax caps this year is the pension exclusion,” he said. “Any time either retirement system increases by greater than 2 percent in a single year, that becomes a modifying factor in the formula. Employees’ retirement system did not increase more than 2 percent, even though it’s up more than 20 percent total. But teachers’ retirement system did-it went from 11.84 percent up to 16.25 percent.”

He added: “This calculation takes into account the district adopting pension smoothing. So, our modifying factor is only a little bit over $14,000. If you don’t opt into the pension smoothing option, that number would grow dramatically. Instead of seeing a bottom line percentage tax cap increase of 2.56 percent, it would be about 4.2 percent.”

Currently, the proposal indicates a 2.44 percent property tax levy increase, which keeps the district within the parameters of its tax cap.

Donahue also reported an approximately $600,000 budget gap, a decrease from the projected $1 million gap in February, with additional state aid coming from the adopted state budget. She said even before reaching the projected $1 million budget gap, the district had already cut back on several expenditures, including electricity, supplies and materials, field trips and various BOCES services.

The budget presentation included recommended methods of reducing the now $600,000 gap by: implementing staff reductions of one full-time administrator and 5.5 full-time teaching positions; equipment, contractual and supplies reductions; adopting the teachers’ retirement system pension smoothing option, which would reduce 2013-14 expenses by approximately $200,000; staying within the parameters of the tax cap; and the continued use of the district’s fund balance and reserves.