Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Chiara gives his two cents about the district budget Wednesday evening.
By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
The Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education passed the district's $63 million 2013-2014 tentative budget Wednesday night at a special board meeting.
Prior to the 10 p.m. resolution vote, Kim Brumley, business manager for the district, gave a presentation to the board about the components entailed in the tentative budget.
"Our charge -- the administrators, the superintendent, and myself -- is to go through this budget and make any cuts we believe will help the district and save the programs," Brumley said.
In the 2010-11 budget, the state implemented the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a way to reduce the state's deficit by decreasing the amount of state aid to schools.
Brumley said that since the GEA was implemented, the district has lost $9.8 million to date.
"That wasn't our fault," chimed in Nellie Bush, president of the Board of Education.
"No, that was the state," Brumley said. "They said you guys figure it out."
Brumley reminded the board that one year they had to cut 60 people out of the budget.
And since the 2008-09 year, the Foundation Aid -- money from the state used to offset the costs of the Employee Retirement System (ERS) and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) -- has been frozen.
This year the ERS rate rose one percent and the TRS rate rose nearly 4 percent compared to last years rates, Brumley explained.
On top of that, transportation costs have increased by nearly $61,000 and instructional and administration costs have risen by about $261,000 from last year, district documents show.
"These are just the big ones that are really making a major impact," she told the board.
Eight retirements are tentative for the end of this school year, but if they occur they will all be re-filled.
Michele Downing, director of Data and Personnel for the district, added later that the eight positions are two elementary AIS providers, two elementary classroom teachers, a physical education teacher, a media specialist, a seventh-grade English teacher, and a middle school technology teacher.
Board member John Bottiste questioned Brumley on why it was necessary to fill them.
"It's been determined by the directors and superintendent that they are necessary in order to keep the programming we have now," she explained, adding that the ones coming in will be coming with not as many years of service causing a savings for the district.
"With the savings, we are going to add three elementary teachers, one special education teacher, and two LPNs," she added.
Robert Mark, director of Elementary Instruction, told the board later that the elementary positions are included because of larger class sizes moving to next levels, and also to accommodate what is expected to be a "very full kindergarten" class for the coming year.
Bush added that the two LPNs are state mandated due to two new students coming in to the district.
The savings will also allow the secondary principals to become 12-month employees.
Brumley said later that she is constantly looking at lines where they are able to decrease costs, but she is getting to a point where those aren't really found anymore.
"I've found about a dozen, but eventually we aren't going to find those."
As for revenue coming in to the district, Brumley broke down the tentative budget for the board, showing 61 percent coming from state aid (not including grants), 34 percent coming from real property taxes, 2 percent coming from interfund transfers, 2 percent coming from tax items, along with some much smaller amounts.
The appropriation break-down showed instruction taking up about 44 percent, 24 percent going to employee benefits, 7 percent to pupil transportation, 10 percent to general support, and 15 percent to debt.
The debt percentage is high, Brumley reminded, only due to the fact that the district got a bump in state aid from their capital projects to pay down their debt.
Brumley later explained the fund balance and told the board that it is her goal to not appropriate fund balance to offset tax increases.
"It's not a good idea ever to appropriate fund balance to offset reoccurring costs," she said.
But what about a tax increase?
Brumley said that although they could raise taxes by $800,000 to stay under the tax cap, the board gave her the charge to not see a tax increase, and there won't be one.
"We are levying this budget exactly what we levied last year," she said.
As per the equalization rate, the city of Amsterdam tax rate is expected to go down by $0.7054, the town of Amsterdam is expected to go down by $0.7664, the town of Florida is expected to go up $1.7812, the town of Perth up by $0.3961, and the town of Glenville up by $0.0048, according to Brumley.
She said the towns of Mohawk, Duanesburg, and Charlton all represent about $38,900 of the total levy.
"We don't set the equalization rate," Brumley reminded, adding later that every year the rates flip-flop for the towns and city. "We don't control it. The Board of Education doesn't control it. I don't control it, but it is what we need to use in order to do the levy."
Brumley said the rates fluctuates year to year.
With the boost in state aid this year, Brumley said that the original $565,000 shortfall that she told the board about earlier in the year is no longer an issue, and in this tentative budget the district will be appropriating around $525,000 for the coming fiscal year.
The public hearing on the budget is slated for May 7 at the Central Administrative Office.
Following the four-hour meeting and the passage of the tentative budget, District Superintendent Thomas Perillo said the budget was constructed around what they knew and what they had.
"We are pleased to be able to come up with a budget for the second year in a row that is not increasing the tax levy. The tax levy will be staying the same as it was last year," Perillo said. "We're looking forward to our public hearing and we're looking forward to the budget season and the pamphlets that will be going out to promote the budget."
The public will vote on the budget at various polling places on May 21.