SWCS Discussses Budget Impact

The Southwestern Central School District is staring down a budget gap of approximately $350,000 with very few means of closing it.

On Tuesday, the Southwestern Board of Education held a special meeting to review the enacted 2014-15 state budget and the impact it will have on the district.

Taking center stage once again was the gap elimination adjustment, which was reported by Superintendent Maureen Donahue to be $999,871 for the 2014-15 academic year. Donahue said the Southwestern’s GEA amount reflects a restoration of only 20 percent from last year’s amount and is the second highest of all of Chautauqua County’s 18 school districts.

“I can’t stress enough that we took a huge hit in this budget,” Donahue said. “One of the things (the legislature) is saying is that it’s going to be at least two more years before the GEA is gone. I can tell you we don’t have two years, so we can’t give up on this. We need to start tomorrow, and we need to advocate that the GEA for Southwestern has got to go.”

Donahue also showed that the district is currently receiving approximately $6.2 million in foundation aid, despite the fact that it was receiving $7 million in the 2008-09 school year.

In the wake of an executive budget that still contains the gap elimination adjustment, Southwestern must consider alternative methods of closing its budget gap. Scott Hoot, business administrator, presented three routes the board could take in achieving that goal: modifications to expenditures, utilizing additional fund balance or reserves, or instituting additional property taxes.

As far as expenditure modifications, Donahue and Hoot suggested making cuts to areas such as transportation for after-school and midday prekindergarten programs, field trips, student accident insurance and K-12 supplies and materials budgets. Donahue said having to choose which programs and services to cut is difficult, but the suggested items are being considered because they are not mandated by the state.

“These are things that none of us want to put up there, but we are at a loss,” Donahue said.

Perhaps more painful is the fact that, even if all the suggested services and programs were to be cut, the district would only reduce expenditures by $123,000. Donahue said a 1 percent increase to the tax levy would provide an additional $123,000. This would still leave the district with an approximately $100,000 gap.

“It’s still not there,” she said.

Hoot presented the district’s tax cap and its calculation, through which he reported an allowable property tax increase of 3.47 percent.

The next meeting of the Southwestern Board of Education will be Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The board must adopt a district budget by April 22.