It’s been an uphill battle for local superintendents struggling to craft budget proposals for the coming 2020-21 school year, especially in the face of financial uncertainty at the state level.
Of chief concern is the specter of a 20-percent cut in state aid to districts repeatedly raised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in public statements in recent weeks.
While cuts aren’t yet certain, their prospect has forced district officials to craft budget proposals based on best guesses instead of solid numbers.
“We are all making decisions and it often feels we’re making decisions in quicksand,” said Livonia Superintendent Matt Cole. “A lot of things are moving as we’re making these decision.”
Districts usually hold their budget votes at the end of May, but votes were postponed this year due to the coronavirus.
Instead, district residents will vote via absentee ballot, which districts will soon begin mailing out. An executive order from Cuomo stipulates in order to be valid, ballots must be received by – not mailed to - districts no later than 5 p.m. June 9.
Below is a breakdown of budget proposals of some of the school districts that serve residents of Livingston County.
Avon Central Schools
The district is proposing a budget of $20.76 million for the 2020-21 school year. Should it pass muster with voters, it would mark an about .7 percent increase over the current year’s budget of about $20.62 million.
The proposal would increase the district’s local tax levy by about 2 percent - from about $9.9 million to $10.1 million, well within its state-mandated tax cap of 3.8 percent.
Its tax rate would also go up about 2 percent from $23 per $1,000 of assessed value to $23.46 per $1,000. At that new rate, a homeowner with a residence assessed at a value of $165,000 would see their annual school tax bill go from $3,795 to $3,871 - an increase of about $76.
The district crafted its budget based on the assumption the state will cut its aid by about 2.4 percent, from the $9.66 million it received during the current, 2019-20 school year to $9.44 million.
“We didn’t want to be overly draconian” in coming up with a figure, said Pacette. At the same time, “we wanted to have something in there that assumed some sort of reduction,” he said.
The district has healthy reserves of about $7 million – something Pacette laid at the feet of Avon’s board of education and Business Administrator, Kristen Murphy.
“They’ve done some good long term planning,” he said.
The district is using about $120,000 of that $7 million to balance its budget proposal. In the event Cuomo slashes aid amount, Pacette said the district could rely on this ample reserve as a short-term solution.
“We’re also taking a close look at every position that comes open right now… to determine if we need to fill it or not,” he said. “...we’re hoping to not lay people off.”
Should cuts come at a 20 percent rate as Cuomo has suggested they might, “it’d be devastating,” for Avon, Pacette said.
“Short term, it would wipe out a lot of the long term planning the district has done over the last 12 to 15 years,” he said. “Everything would have to go on the table at that point. We’d have to start looking at non-mandated programming first. You’d move through those departments pretty quickly.”
In addition to its budget, the district is seeking voter approval regarding four additional propositions, outlined below.
Proposition 2: Authorizes the district to purchase one, 64-passenger school bus at a cost not to exceed $123,000.
Proposition 3: Authorizes the district to spend $120,000 from its vehicle and euipment capital reserve fund to buy furniture and equipment for buildings and grounds, instructional, athletic and cafeteria purposes.
Proposition 4: Authorizes the district to create a new capital reserve fund for the future purchase of information and audiovisual technology equipment and supplies. The fund would not exceed $1 million and would be allowable for a period of 10 years.
Proposition 5: Allows the district to levy $110,000 from district taxpayers to fund the Avon Free Library. Should voters approve it, the total library levy amount would be up about nine percent from the current year’s levy of $101,000.
Voters will also fill two open seats on the district’s board of education. The seats are currently held by Robert DeBruycker and Rodney George. Terms are for three years.
Once its finalized, the district will upload its budget newsletter to its website. Pacette said it should be up online, here, by Monday.
The public hearing for its budget is set for May 27 at 5 p.m. Information on how to access the meeting virtually will be posted to the district’s website. Residents wishing to submit comments or questions will be able to do so during the hearing, said Pacette.
Dansville Central Schools
If approved by voters, the district’s $33.6 million budget proposal for the 2020-21 school year would mark an about 2.7 percent increase over the current $32.7 million budget. Much of that increase is driven by a nearly $1 million jump in anticipated special education costs over the current school year.
The proposed budget relies on about $1.5 million from the district’s reserves – about half of its total reserves, according to Superintendent Paul Alioto.
The district would also increase its local tax levy by about 2 percent, from about $8.5 million to about $8.7 million. The district’s state-mandated tax cap was just over 2.5 percent, according to Alioto.
Under its proposal, the district’s tax rate would increase about 1.2 percent from $16.45 per $1,000 of assessed vale to $16.64 per $1,000. With the new rate, a homeowner with a residence assessed at a value of $90,000 would see their annual school tax bill increase about $17, from $1,481 to $1,498
The district crafted its budget under the assumption its state aid will be cut about 1.6 percent, from $21.25 million to $20.9 million – a difference of about $336,000.
A 20 percent cut to Dansville’s foundation aid, as Cuomo has suggested, would hit district revenues to the tune of more than $3 million, said Alioto – a devastating figure.
“I don’t think we could provide for a sound basic education… with $3 million in cuts,” said Alioto. “...That’s just something we won’t be able to absorb without making significant cuts.”
Back in the post-Great Recession days of 2010, 2011 and 2012, the district made significant budget cuts to get itself into the black.
“We laid off many employees, we reduced the number of positions in the district and then the federal government came in and infused additional aid and we ended up recalling many of those persons we laid off,” Alioto said. “For Dansville, it would be premature to make significant cuts now or to lay people off and put them through all that stress without knowing for sure whether the federal government is going to come to the aid of New York.”
Continued Alioto: “We’ll take a wait and see approach as long as we can.”
Should the district’s fiscal outlook worsen, Alioto said he’d prioritize maintaining arts, music and sports offerings at Dansville.
“Those are… very important to my community,” he said. “What could happen is you could see a reduction in the number of teachers in grades K through 6, and you’d see increased class sizes.”
Other cost-saving measures the district is undertaking this year include capping pre-K enrollment, and reducing its workforce through attrition – i.e. not hiring new people to fill positions left vacant by employees who are retiring.
“The proposed budget is balanced, it considers the needs for students and the capacity of our local community to pay for their education,” Alioto concluded. “We’ve made significant reductions and we’re doing the best that we can with limited resources to provide a top-rated education for our kids.”
The district will hold its virtual budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Facebook live. Residents wishing to submit questions or comments are asked to email District Clark Vaune Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Absentee ballots will be accepted at the district offices, 337 Main St., during regular work hours. On June 9, the day ballots are due, ballots will be accepted at the district offices between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
For more information on Dansville’s budget proposal, click here.
In addition to its budget, the district is seeking voter approval to purchase two, 30-passenger buses at a cost not to exceed $62,500 each and two, 7-passenger SUVs at an estimated maximum cost of $52,750 each.
Voters will also fill two open seats on the district’s board of education. The seats are currently held by Brian Applin and Matthew Crane. Terms are for three years.
Geneseo Central Schools
Voters will decide whether to approve a budget proposal of about $21.5 million, an increase just shy of 1 percent, or about $200,000, from the current year’s budget of $21.3 million.
Under the proposal, the district’s tax rate and overall levy would both go up. The rate would go up to $16.27 per $1,000 of assessed value while the levy would increase about 1.7 percent from $11.33 million to $11.5 million.
Should the proposal pass, the school tax obligation for a homeowner with a residence assessed at a value of $197,000 would be about $3,205. Five candidates are seeking three open seats on the board of education. Incumbents Julie Mathews and Chris McDonald are seeking new terms. Also running are Kathy Bondi-Vattime, Sean Ledwith and Matthew Mallaber. Terms are for three years. Click here for more information on candidates.
A virtual budget hearing is scheduled for May 26 at 6 p.m. Visit the district’s website, here, for more information about how to access the hearing and for more information on its budget. In addition to mailing them in, residents can drop absentee ballots off at the district offices, 4050 Avon Rd., Geneseo.
Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Schools
The district is proposing a $53.3 million budget, up about 5.2 percent from the current year’s $50.7 million in expenditures.
Under the proposal, the district’s local property tax levy, its chief source of revenue, would increase 2.86 percent over the current year’s budget – the maximum allowable increase without the need to exceed its state-imposed tax cap, which would require 60-percent voter approval to pass.
Much of the district’s tax levy increase would be through a 2.9 percent bump to its tax rate, which would increase from $23.71 per $1,000 of assessed value to $24.39 per $1,000. Should the budget pass, a homeowner with a residence assessed at a value of $200,000 would see their annual school tax bill increase $136, from $4,742 to $4,878.
In a statement Friday, Superintendent Gene Mancuso said the district didn’t include a reduction in state aid in its 2020-21 budget proposal because “the range and scale of these reductions is unknown at this time.”
Instead, the budget proposal being put to voters assumes state aid will increase by nearly 12 percent – much of it in the form of reimbursing capital aid.
Should cuts of the sort Cuomo’s hinted at do occur, Mancuso said the district will evaluate positions vacated by retirees, eliminate proposed new positions and consider further budget reductions and the use of reserves “as a bridge to get through this uncertain time.”
In addition to its budget, the district is seeking voter approval regarding two additional propositions, outlined below.
Proposition 2: Authorizes the district to purchase up to six vehicles for the purposes of student transportation at a cost not to exceed $587,500.
Proposition 3: Authorizes the district to spend $2.4 million to make energy efficiency improvements to district buildings. Improvements would include the installation of LED lights in classrooms and the replacement of old windows. Once debt service payments and energy and maintenance costs are factored in, the district expects the project to net $90,000 in savings annually. The district said 79 percent of its up front costs associated with the project would also be recaptured in the form of reimbursements from the state.
Six candidates are seeking three seats on the district’s board of education. Christopher Neff, Caralyn Ross and Amy West, all incumbents, are seeking new terms as are Daniel Bassette, Kelli Eberle and Jeff Klein. Terms are for three years. To learn more about the candidates, click here.
The district will hold a virtual, public hearing on its budget May 26 starting at 7 p.m. Members of the public wishing to submit questions or comments should email District Clerk Rhonda Schaefer during the meeting. Her email address is Rhonda.email@example.com. For more information on the district’s budget proposal, click here.
Livonia Central Schools
District residents will vote on a $34.7 million budget proposal that would make substantive cuts to staffing levels, core academic and extra curricular offerings for the coming 2020-21 school year. Should voters approve it, the proposal would mark an about 2.1 percent increase over the current year’s nearly $34 million budget.
The increase is driven largely by debt service costs associated with the district’s recent capital project, which included the construction of new tennis courts and overhaul of the high school’s Franklin Auditorium, among other things. 100 percent of these costs are reimbursed by the state, said Matt Cole, the superintendent.
Under the proposal, Livonia would increase its local property tax levy by 2.65 percent – the maximum allowable increase while still keeping within its state-mandated tax cap, which would require 60-percent voter approval to exceed.
While its total levy would increase 2.65 percent, the district’s tax rate would increase only 1.3 percent, from $21.58 per $1,000 of assessed value to $21.86 per $1,000. With such a rate increase, a homeowner with a residence assessed at a value of $180,000 would see their annual tax bill increase about $50, from $3,884 to $3,934.
Cole said the district crafted its budget proposal based on the assumption the state will cut its foundation aid by six percent during the coming school year. Cole said the six percent is just a place-holder figure and that the state could end up cutting funding to a greater degree.
In the past, Cuomo has said repeatedly cuts to schools’ foundation aid could be as high as 20 percent. During a briefing on Thursday, however, Cuomo clarified that suggestion.
“He used to say it could be up to 20 percent if we don’t get federal relief,” said Cole, also speaking Thursday. “Today, my reading of it was it’s going to be around 20 percent. Around 20 percent is different from up to 20 percent.”
In the best case scenario, one in which its foundation aid is only cut by 6 percent, the district will eliminate 19 full time equivalent positions – three administrators, 11 teachers and five teaching assistants. Most of these reductions won’t require layoffs, said Cole. Instead, the district just won’t fill currently vacant positions or positions that will be left vacant due to staff retirements.
Those staffing cuts won’t be enough to balance its budget though, so the district will be forced to lay off staff and reduce funding for certain programs.
In a best case scenario, the district will lay off six teachers – one each in its physical education, art, math, science, business and foreign language departments.
Should Cuomo come back halfway through the 2020-21 school year and cut funding more as he’s suggested he might, more layoffs would be on the table, Cole said.
“There is the potential for significant program cuts that would lead to significant staffing decreases of anywhere from 10 to 25 teachers,” Cole said.
Under the budget proposal, Cole himself would take a 10 percent pay cut and administrator salaries would be flat.
The Livonia Teachers Association, the union that represents district teachers, is considering concessions, said Cole. The outcome of those considerations could alter the district’s layoff plans, he said.
The district is also seeking voter approval to purchase two, 78-passenger school buses at a cost not to exceed $256,128.
Four candidates are seeking three open seats on the board of education. Incumbents Amy Stahl and Andrew Mayo are seeking reelection as are Karen Bennett, a former teacher and administrator at Livonia, and Stephanie Feehan, a former fifth-grade teacher who has three children in the district. Terms are for three years.
In addition to mailing in absentee ballots, district residents will also have the option of submitting their ballots at a drop off location at the elementary school main entrance. The drop off location will be manned from noon to 5 p.m. June 9. Residents won’t have to leave their vehicles, Cole said.
The district will hold a virtual budget hearing May 26 at 6 p.m. To submit a question or comment ahead of time, use the online form here.
To request an additional absentee ballot, contact District Clerk Diane Tusch at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (585) 346-4000.
To view the district’s budget newsletter, which includes information about board of education candidates, click here.