‘Team Effort’

Southwestern Central School District officials will place an expenditure budget of $26,171,269 before community voters next month.

On Tuesday, the Board of Education approved the proposed 2014-15 budget – which reflects an increase of $313,294, or 1.21 percent, over last year’s budget.

The proposed budget was reviewed by Maureen Donahue, superintendent, and Scott Hoot, business administrator, both of whom gave a synopsis of the district’s financial picture from a revenue and expenditure standpoint. On the revenue side, Hoot presented a projected tax levy increase of 2.74 percent, a $50,000 state aid grant procured by the district within the last week, the delay of a statewide interest rate reset for building aid for another year, a debt service fund transfer of $125,000 through the “capturing” of additional revenues and the need to minimize the district’s reliance on appropriated fund balance – which, in previous years, had grown to upward of 8 percent of the entire budget.

“That’s a significantly higher amount than is comfortable,” Hoot said. “We were able to reduce it a bit in 2013-14, and we’re staying on that track trying to reduce that reliance a bit again in 2014-15.”

Hoot said the district’s appropriated fund balance is projected to be $850,000, and its employee retirement system reserve is projected to be $325,000.

“Those are still pretty substantial amounts, but we’re heading in the right direction,” he concluded.

Donahue added that the district would have about 1 years left in its fund balance if it continued its trend of over-dependency on appropriated fund balance.

“That’s not sustainable,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that there’s more money in the bank; it just means that we’re not going to burn through it as quickly.”

Donahue and Hoot reported the district’s proposed use of fund balance and reserves for 2014-15 to be $1,427,777.

On the expenditure side, Hoot highlighted the rising costs of pension systems statewide. He said the teachers’ retirement system is projected to increase up to 17.53 percent of payroll, while the employee retirement system is projected to increase up to 20.1 percent of payroll.

He reported expenditure cuts in the form of 3.6 full-time equivalent faculty retirements, and an overall decrease of approximately $100,000 to expenses for the transportation budget due, in part, to the elimination of late-bus and midday prekindergarten bus runs. Special education expenses were reported to be down by nearly $145,000.

Hoot said the district has a property tax cap calculation of 3.47 percent, meaning the projected 2.74 percent tax levy increase will meet the parameters of the calculation and homeowners in the district would be eligible for the tax cap reimbursement program that was included in the state’s adopted budget earlier this month.

The proposed budget was approved unanimously by the board, and was described by board President Jim Butler as a “team effort, all the way around.”

The Southwestern budget, along with all other area school budgets, will be subject to a community vote on May 20.