Money in budget reserve increases by $1.5 million

Hannah Fagen and Minah Kim, Hannah Fagen, and Minah Kim

As the effects of cut programs resound throughout the district, money in reserves has jumped from $1 million, when the budget was passed in May, to nearly $2.6 million at the beginning of the school year.

The board did not know about those funds until the public did, when Assistant Superintendent for Business Ms. Mary Callahan announced in a public session that money was being moved into the general reserves. This was addressed at the Sept. 11 B.O.E. meeting after parents and community members brought attention to the reserves.

“While the revenues may be seen by some as an ‘increase,’ it is simply money set aside for future expenses and it is our obligation to plan not only for one year, but for the long range fiscal health of the district,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Mooney. “There are many factors for the B.O.E. to consider as part of this planning process.”

The approved budget included cuts in programs across all schools in the district. Elementary schools lost PEP and librarians, all enrichment and library classes have been eliminated, and Schreiber cut several sports teams, clubs, activities, and classes.

“Schreiber and its students have been affected by the budget cuts in a variety of ways,” said Principal Mr. Ira Pernick. “We have lost our JV 2 teams in a few sports and have reduced clubs and activities. We also have fewer sections of classes overall which has limited elective choices for students. As for the increase in the reserves, I have nothing but faith and confidence that the Board of Education and District office are doing what is in the best interests of the district for this year and beyond.”

As part of budget cuts, several departments in the school lost or experienced cuts in secretarial staff, including the English, social studies, and science departments, whose secretarial position was at first eliminated and then re-negotiated to two days a week. Ms. Cheryl Wagner, who previously filled the position as secretary in the science department, has since left the job.

“Not having Ms. Wagner has greatly affected the efficient functioning of the science department,” said science teacher Ms. Marla Ezratty. “You never realize how much one person’s loss can affect the morale of the department until they’re gone. She is incredibly missed.”

The audio-visual position, which included caring for and coordinating the use of films and audio-visual equipment, was also eliminated. The district no longer employs Ms. Joan Biscaro, and the librarians have taken over the bulk of her position’s responsibilities.

“I would say [taking out movies] takes a bit longer,” said social studies teacher Mr. Alexander Sepulvida. “It’s also a new system and it’s being worked out, but the library staff is being more than accommodating.”

The unanticipated increase in the reserves came from the receipt of money from sources that were unpredictable. The district is still receiving money from the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program, and no knowledge of payment exists until a notice is received, and money from Chapter 721 (Medicaid, special education) has been backlogged for years, so payment is received erratically. Likewise, money from sale of land, MTA payroll tax, and federal sources was unexpected.

“Some of the money we have is a one time event,” said board member Vernon McDermott. “It’s probably not a good idea to create programs with non-recurring money.”

Every year, the Board of Education authorizes money into the reserves for unanticipated expenditures. According to state law, once the voters have approved a school budget for 2012-2013 money may only be taken from the reserves to cover the costs of unanticipated emergencies or unforeseen legal obligations such as damaged facilities or an increase in enrollment. The reserves may not be used to restore programs such as full-time PEP or full-time library at the elementary level at this time because those program reductions were part of the public budget discussion last Spring.

“I believe that it appeared because of overgenerous budgeting on the part of our business office, as well as funds coming in late to the budget from various entities such as New York State,” said Mr. Ryan. “I believe that we should have done a better job of cash forecasting, which would have put us in a better situation where we could have reinstated these programs.”

The B.O.E. has to balance student program needs with maintaining a healthy fund balance, along with managing the tax levy limit and County Guarantee. The County Guarantee, which will go into effect in 2013, would require a shift of the burden of tax returns from the county to the school district. This expense could potentially be over $2,000,000 per year for the school district. All of these issues will be considered during the budget preparation cycle for the 2013-2014 school year this Spring.

“The glass could be half full because we have reserves, but half empty because we were unable to put back in place what the public wanted,” said Board of Education member and last year’s Budget Committee Chair Mr. Bob Ryan.