GESD board cuts nearly $2M from budget

GLOVERSVILLE — Gloversville Enlarged School District Treasurer Cathy Meher on Monday presented a heavily revised draft of the 2020-21 school budget to the Board of Education that cut new positions and expenditures proposed in the first draft of the budget presented to board in March.

The first draft of the 2020-21school budget totaled $70.96 million, representing a 5.84 percent increase from the current year’s $67.04 million budget. The revised draft presented on Monday was trimmed by nearly $2 million, resulting in a tentative budget of $68.78 million, a 2.59 percent increase over the current year.

The district cut its initial draft budget in reaction to the passage of the state budget signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 3 that keeps state aid to school districts flat at the 2019-20 level while allowing the state to adjust or reduce aid over the course of the year based on actual revenues received by the state.

The state is projecting a budget shortfall this year due to expenditures related to the coronavirus and losses in revenue related to restrictions closing non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the virus. Any cuts in state aid will be determined following three “measurement periods” running from April 1 to 30, May 1 to June 30 and July 1 to Dec. 31.

“This makes it extremely difficult to prepare the expense side of the budget. However, we are working on several scenarios to address this,” said Meher.

New positions, buildings and grounds vehicle and equipment purchases, summer curriculum work and classroom furniture were cut from the budget proposal presented to the board on March 9. Projected increases in health insurance costs included in the initial draft budget were approved at a one percent increase, resulting in a savings of approximately $185,000. Additional savings estimated at $350,000 were identified in the form of IT support services from BOCES. The first wave of reductions brought the budget down to approximately $68.78 million.

“These reductions have been made with no impact on the current instructional model and course offerings. Even with these reductions, there is a gap of approximately $450,000 between estimated revenues and estimated expenditures,” said Meher.

Meher reported that the district’s administrative team will be meeting to discuss current staffing and the replacement of staff members as they retire. District Superintendent David Halloran noted that the district is exploring options to reduce staff through attrition before considering layoffs. Options may include an early retirement incentive that would make faculty members eligible to retire after 15 years rather than the normal 20 years.

“Due to the COVID-19 impact on the economy we are expecting a flat aid projection for 2020-21 as a best case scenario,” said Halloran. “We will have a number of scenarios for the board to examine in the weeks and months ahead as we navigate the potential and likely reduction in state aid and our contraction as an organization.”

Additionally, the district is working with its financial advisor, R. G. Timbs, Inc., to prepare a long range plan that also addresses the district’s fund balance level that currently exceeds four percent of the district’s annual budget, the level the state Comptroller’s Office recommends districts maintain. The district is proposing the use of $1.8 million from its the fund balance to balance the 2020-21 school budget and the establishment of three capital reserve funds for future construction, vehicle and technology purchases that would have to be approved by voters.

An executive order issued by Cuomo will postpone school board elections and budget votes that typically take place in May until at least June 1, leading the district to decide to wait to adopt its 2020-21 school budget until after the state’s first measurement period ending on April 30 with a detailed budget proposal to be presented to the board in May.

“It seems inevitable that a state aid reduction of some sort will occur, so level one and level two cuts will be developed in an effort to prepare for this,” said Meher.

Halloran commended Meher’s efforts to revise and balance the school budget especially in light of the rapid shift in state aid projections within the past month.

“Obviously a lot has changed since Cathy’s last presentation in March. It’s a work in progress, as every district in New York state is reeling from this crisis we are, to use their euphemism, building the plane as we are flying it. Cathy is doing a great job and we will keep you informed as we build it,” said Halloran.

By Patricia Older

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