Niagara Gazette

March 17, 2014

Niagara Falls School District tackling a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall

By Timothy Chipp timothy.chipp@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Massive program changes may be headed to the Niagara Falls City School District, courtesy of a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

It’s the byproduct of declining revenues and expense calculations rising due, mainly, to contractual obligations. Considering all the numbers, budget preparation suggests the gap between the two requires the district find $6.5 million. And to make matters worse, that figure includes a $500,000 prayer to the state legislature for a restoration or increase of aid to the district it hasn’t even been guaranteed.

Making the money up won’t come at the further expense of taxpayers, though, as the district announced it would not be capable of raising the tax levy for a second consecutive year due to the state’s property tax levy cap. Administrators said the formula used to determine the figure the district could attempt to increase the dollar figure actually provided a negative number, which rounds up to zero.

“We’re not even able to consider raising our tax levy unless we want to ask for a 60 percent supermajority of voters (in May),” budget manager Rebecca Holody said Thursday.

“If you remember back to last year, the debate came up about raising the tax levy,” Administrator for School Business Services Timothy Hyland added. “We proposed that and told (the school board) we wouldn’t be able to do it this year because the formula likely wouldn’t allow us to do it. We’ve been so efficient getting as much aid as we can for our capital projects, but it actually hurts us here.”

Planning to handle the gap could include using an overwhelming majority of the district’s fund balance left over in savings from previous years. It’s a relatively new luxury to have considering the state of the district’s finances just a few years ago, Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said. But it could be used to knock the $6.5 million down to $4.5 million.

Bianco said the district has about $2.5 million in savings and is proposing the use of $2 million of the figure. It would leave the district with about $500,000 in savings, plus whatever is left over at the end of the current school year, heading into 2014-15. It’s a risky move, but one Bianco said should be considered.

Though she cautioned using all of it would not be her choice.

“Three years ago, this district never had a fund balance,” she said. “So we want to do everything we can to keep it.”

Officials have until March 27 to create different scenarios for finding ways to eliminate the $4.5 million figure, assuming the extra aid and fund balance use. It’s that night they’re expected to present the different plans to school board members for debate before the district must adopt a spending plan in April.

Voters will have the ultimate say when polls open Tuesday, May 20, for the annual school board member election and budget vote.

“The public should know we’re not sitting on golden gooses here,” board President Russell Petrozzi said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep the taxes low in the district.”

 

 

Big red number $6.5M Anticipated budget shortfall in the Falls School District for the 2014/15 school year.

 

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.