MASSENA - The Massena Central School Districts Finance Committee has made some headway on paring down a projected $5.6 million deficit in their 2013-14 budget proposal, but the committee chairman says they still have some hard work ahead of them.
Michael J. LeBire told board of education members Thursday night that the Finance Committee had established a goal of making $2.5 million to $3 million in cuts, and their current proposal now shows an estimated shortfall of $3.2 million.
The committee is looking at a series of cuts, he said.
No specifics on the cuts were presented, but Mr. LeBire said they used a number of criteria in coming up with suggested cuts.
Those include looking at mandatory versus non-mandatory positions and programs; maintaining programs; maintaining acceptable class sizes; the impact of cuts on students, the district and the community; the cost of the program and cost per student; maximizing shared services; and eliminating open positions where possible.
This isnt anything new, Mr. LeBire said, noting they had applied the same criteria every year in their budget discussions.
Their latest projection shows an estimated 2013-14 budget of $48.7 million, up from $46 million this year largely due to increases in salaries, retirement contributions, health insurance and costs for programs and services provided by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Personnel is our biggest expense, Mr. LeBire said.
He said salaries will go up 5.2 percent, their contribution to the teacher retirement system will go up anywhere from 11.8 percent to 16.3 percent and their contribution to the employee retirement system will go up anywhere from 18.9 percent to 20.9 percent.
Health insurance costs, meanwhile, will be going up 6.3 percent, while BOCES costs will be rising 5 percent.
Figuring in their expense-cutting goal of $2 million, Mr. LeBire said the net increase is $673,154.
He said their current revenue is $42,046,132, and theyre penciling in an estimated 3 percent increase in state aid, or $751,411. A 5 percent property tax increase would mean $681,288, bringing their estimated 2013-14 revenue to $43,478,831.
Mr. LeBire said one of the factors they were facing was decreased state aid. It was $22,343,059 in 2008-09, and dropped to $20,538,580 in 2012-13. For 2013-14, the current state aid proposal calls for $21,543,640.
They have also lost aid because of gap elimination adjustments, he said - $1.4 million in 2010-11, $2.7 million in 2011-12 and $2 million in 2012.
Our aid has gone down over the last three to four years, he said. The impact is that essentially weve lost $6 million (because of gap elimination adjustments).
With the original $5.6 million shortfall, Mr. LeBire said they would have had to go out to taxpayers with a 41.5 percent tax levy increase or make hypothetical cuts of either 64 teachers or 51 administrators, an impossibility based on staff numbers. The district currently has 422.8 full-time equivalent employees, which includes 211 teachers and 18.8 administrative positions.
The options for closing the gap included spending district reserves, raising taxes or cutting expenses.
This Finance Committee has taken the option of using all three, Mr. LeBire said.
But, by using their reserves steadily to mitigate the loss of state aid, that was putting the district in a precarious financial position, he said, noting that at the current rates, the districts unrestricted reserves would be exhausted by 2016-17.
Property tax increases also cant cover the gap alone, according to the committee chairman. A 1 percent increase would generate $136,000, he said, noting their tax levy cap this year is expected to be 5.3 percent, which would generate $720,000.
Were not going to get there with property taxes to make up for the loss of state aid, he said.
That meant that they also needed to look at cuts, and they continue to examine others to whittle the gap, Mr. LeBire said.
Well continue to work to finalize the budget proposal, he said.
Board member Leonard A. Matthews suggested they needed to take the situation seriously, since it would only get worse in the years ahead. Among his suggestions was to consider moving eighth-grade students to the high school, having a junior high for fifth to seventh grades and closing one elementary building.
We need to be pretty serious about this. Were not where some of the other districts are, but we will be soon, he said.
I think were basically trying to prolong our existence... before we take drastic action, Mr. LeBire said.
Resident Robin M. Wolpin wondered if the community would have any input on the decisions made by the Finance Committee before the budget was adopted.
Board member Loren Fountaine suggested that anyone who wanted to provide input could email board members directly.
I encourage anyone to email their ideas, he said.
But, he added, the difficult part to the budget process was ensuring employees who were affected by cuts learn about it before the community did.
We want the employee to hear it from the superintendent before its public, he said.