Farmingdale School Budget: Less Aid, Rising Costs Force District To Trim

Proposal calls for some reductions to compensate for the loss in state aid.

To sustain deep state aid cuts, the is proposing a budget for the 2011-2012 school year that will reduce staff and after-school clubs, while maintaining a district-wide average class size of 22.

The budget proposal, which calls for a 2.96 percent tax levy, represents a $1,075,886 decrease in spending from last year's budget.

“We are working under a very different set of circumstances,” said Superintendent John Lorentz at Wednesday night’s budget presentation.

Under Governor Cuomo’s budget, the district is receiving $2,713,158 less state aid this year than last year, while simultaneously facing an annual sewer tax and other potential new costs from both Nassau County and New York State.

Salaries make up the majority of the district’s total expenses at $78,053,893, which is $2.44 million less than last year. This number was reached by reducing the district’s full-time equivalent staff by 39.32 and teacher aides/monitors by around 13. The actual number of layoffs will be significantly less than these numbers, however, because of retirements and "realignments," administrators said.

The district’s largest expense increase is $4,458,559 in employee benefits costs, which consists of district contributions to health insurance, the employee retirement system and the teacher retirement system. Health insurance costs rose 15 percent, while ERS and TRS costs went up more than 35 percent.

“Employee benefits have gone up significantly and this is what caused us, in large part, to make a lot of the reductions we had to make in this budget,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Paul Defendini.

The proposal recommends combining seventh- and eighth- grade sports teams and offering less after-school clubs at all grade levels. The clubs eliminated would be the ones with the least student interest in September, administrators said.

Other district-wide reductions include less guidance hours during the summer and evenings and eliminating the elementary/middle summer school program.

Spending in the areas of transportation, debt service, utilities and materials were lessened through cost-saving solutions like refinancing and switching to natural gas. The district will also put $1,050,000 less towards capital projects this year.

Much of these cuts were the result of a significant loss in aid from New York State. According to Defendini, the district was hit with a $4,628,979 cut in state aid due to Gap Elimination Adjustment, a reduction to the district’s total aid formula based on wealth factors, that the state imposed to balance the state budget.

Other revenue sources for the district - interest payments on money market and savings accounts, tuitions from billable foster students and health services revenue from local private schools - are also less this year due to low interest rates and the closure of Our Lady of Lourdes School.

To help offset the revenue losses and rising expenses, the district’s budget proposal will use $1,803,251 from the reserves and $5,196,749 from the fund balance (the amount of money left over from last year's budget cycle) - a total of $7 million.

During the presentation, Defendini explained what he called “the reserve/fund balance trap,” how using reserves to offset the proposed two percent tax cap and reduced state aid would empty the account in a few short years, forcing the district to make more than $8 million in cuts to the program by the 2014-2015 school year.

Superintendent Lorentz also expressed how the Governor’s proposed 2 percent tax cap would severely limit the district’s resources and would remove the local taxpayers’ authority to make decisions on the annual budget.

From 2002-06 the district experienced three out of four first time budget defeats and the average tax levy increase was 7.96 percent. From 2006-10 the district experienced no budget defeats and an average tax levy increase of 2.3 percent.

The school district will be holding numerous budget workshops over the upcoming weeks. The next will be held March 30 at 8 p.m. in the Howitt cafeteria.

mauderoof March 26, 2011 at 07:34 AM
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