Feb. 13, 2014
District officials discuss early outlook for 2014-15 budget
Marcellus Central School District officials met with the public Feb. 12, to share what they know so far about the district’s 2014-15 budget.
The community budget forum, held in the high school’s large group instruction room, featured presentations by Board of Education President Ryan Riefler, Vice President John Fuller, School Business Administrator Anthony Sonnaccio and Superintendent Craig Tice.
As Mr. Sonnacchio told board members at their Jan. 21 meeting, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his draft budget, the district now faces an estimated budget gap of approximately $1.57 million, based on anticipated revenues of $29.79 million and projected expenditures of $31.37 million.
But the district has many more tools at its disposal to pare down the deficit, Mr. Sonnachio said, such as staffing reductions through attrition, increased state aid from the NYS Senate and Assembly, additional use of district reserves, and other savings resulting from contract negotiations.
During the forum:
Mr. Fuller discussed the budget in a historical context.Since 2008, Marcellus has had to weather not only losses in state aid, but also steep increases in retirement contribution rates, declining student enrollment and staffing reductions. Mr. Fuller stressed that during the past four years, the school district lost a total of $7,824,370 in state aid to the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
Yet, even in the face of these challenges, the district labored to limit tax increases and maintain the level of instructional programming that residents have come to expect from Marcellus schools. Marcellus Central School District once again ranks among the state’s lowest (30th out of 671 total school districts) in per-pupil spending.
Mr. Sonnacchio, the district’s business administrator, explained what the governor’s proposed state budget means for Marcellus. The governor’s proposal calls for a modest increase in base aids of $180,566, resulting in a $1.57 million operating deficit for the next school year. To close this deficit, Mr. Sonnacchio projected what would happen if the district used reserve funds (including any fund balance from the current year) and increased local property tax revenues to the tax levy limit. While these measures would make the deficit more manageable, Mr. Sonnaccio cautioned that the reserve funds are limited and will be exhausted over time if they are continuously used to balance the budget.
Mr. Riefler discussed future goal development and the district’s priorities from the Board of Education’s perspective. Mr. Riefler said these priorities include student safety, fiscal responsibility to taxpayers, improving academic programs while increasing student opportunities, and maintenance of the physical plant, technology infrastructure, and human capital. Mr. Riefler said the Board of Education was reaching out to the district’s state legislators, including Sen. John DeFrancisco and Assemblyman Gary Finch, to share district concerns and accomplishments.
The forum concluded with a question and answer session.
Dr. Tice expressed his gratitude to the staff while highlighting Marcellus Central School District’s past accomplishments, current initiatives and future challenges. Dr. Tice thanked the faculty, support staff, administrators and Board of Education for their efforts to not only be transparent but also accountable: in financial matters, educational program development and review, student assessment, curriculum alignment, bench-marking district achievement against rigorous standards, professional collaboration, and the care and maintenance of the campus.
Jan. 27, 2014
Want to learn more about the GEA? Attend a forum, watch a video
Have you been hearing a lot about the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, but are not really sure what it is and how it impacts school districts?
This video, produced by the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service, might help.
The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) law was first introduced for the 2010-11 fiscal year by then-Governor Paterson as a way to help close New York’s then $10 billion budget deficit. Under the legislation, a portion of the funding shortfall at the state level is divided among all school districts throughout the state and reflected as a reduction in school district state aid.
The GEA has left a hole in many school district budgets — including in Marcellus — in recent years. In the Executive Budget Proposal for 2014-15, which state lawmakers are currently considering, the GEA is continued. It shows up as a $1.3 million loss of aid for Marcellus.
Want to find out what you can do about it? Consider attending one of two community advocacy forums next week in Auburn and North Syracuse. The GEA will be the main focus of both events.
The forums on the GEA will feature Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.
After the governor released his proposed budget, Dr. Timbs said: "New York school districts have collectively lost $8.4 billion in state aid since the GEA was implemented in the 2009-2010 school year. The GEA was supposed to be a temporary fix — a remedy until there was no gap in the state budget. Now that the gap is gone, it’s time to get rid of the adjustment.’’
Reminder: Any Marcellus residents interested in traveling to the Feb. 4 advocacy forum in Auburn on a district school bus should call District Clerk Kim LaRose at 673-6210. Your RSVP will assist the event coordinators, as well as those organizing bus transportation and/or district follow-up advocacy efforts.
Jan. 27, 2014
GEA remains in governor’s budget proposal
The state investment in schools would increase by $807 million or 3.8 percent next year if enacted as outlined in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget unveiled Jan. 21. The increase includes funding the governor has earmarked for the launch of several new education initiatives, including universal, full-day pre-kindergarten statewide.
Locally, the projected increase for Marcellus Central School District is $542,223, or 4.7 percent. However, only 1.5 percent of that increase is in the category of base aids.
The distinction between the two categories of base and expense-driven aid is significant, said Marcellus Business Administrator Anthony Sonnacchio.
“The base aids are permanent aid increases the district counts on from year to year to minimize increases in property taxes,” Mr. Sonnacchio said. “A 1.5 percent increase in base aids, in conjunction with the limited resources of our local taxpayers, falls short of the amount necessary to sustain the programming we currently provide for our students. We’re hopeful the Legislature will consider realigning the governor’s proposal to help offset the aid cutbacks we’ve faced since the 2009-2010 school year.”
Governor Cuomo indicated that high-quality early education is one of the best investments to be made in education, but many schools do not have the space, staffing or equipment for such a program. He proposed spending $1.5 billion over five years to phase in the program.
“The state will move as fast as districts move,” the governor said. “It becomes a government chore to develop capacity.”
In addition to universal pre-kindergarten, Gov. Cuomo also proposed a $2 billion bond for a Smart Schools initiative to go before voters in November. If approved, the bond would give schools money for infrastructure improvements related to high-speed broadband access and classroom technology (e.g., smartboards, tablets). Schools could also use the funds to construct new pre-kindergarten classrooms, if the funds allow or if they prefer. The state would distribute the funds to schools based on the existing state aid formula.
Other new education initiatives in his proposal include:
Investing $720 million over a five-year period in afterschool programs. Districts would have to submit plans to the State Education Department for approval.
An $8 million SUNY/CUNY full-scholarship program for the top 10 percent of high school graduates. Eligible graduates must pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math and work in New York State for five years following graduation from college.
A $20 million Teacher Excellence Fund that would allow teachers rated as “highly effective” to be eligible to receive rewards of up to $20,000 annually.
Officially eliminating standardized tests for students in grades K-2. Currently there are no state assessments in those grades.
Remaining in his proposal is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced in 2010 as a way for the state government to close its budget deficit. It did so by spreading the funding shortfall around to all school districts through a GEA reduction to the overall Foundation Aid due to schools. Despite New York’s anticipated surplus, the governor’s proposal calls for only a partial restoration ($323 million) of funds withheld from districts through the GEA.
Marcellus has lost $7.8 million to the GEA in the last four years.
“Over the past four to five years, we have endeavored to confront the reality of limited resources while striving to protect the strong educational programming our community has come to expect,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Craig J. Tice said. “It has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination.
“After Marcellus was identified as a school district in fiscal stress in both 2007 and 2008, the Board of Education mitigated the loss in state aid attributable to the GEA with the careful use of reserve funds,” Dr. Tice continued.
In fact, a recent report by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli indicated the Marcellus Central School District was not in fiscal stress and had a stress rank of 417 out of 674 (with 1 being the highest fiscal stress and 674 the least fiscal stress), Dr. Tice noted.
“In comparison, about 23 percent of the school districts in Central New York -- and 13 percent statewide – found themselves in some form of fiscal stress,” Dr. Tice said
The Executive Budget also proposes a two-year property tax freeze for homeowners residing in school districts that meet certain conditions. During the first year of the freeze, a district would have to pass a budget with a levy that stays within its property tax levy cap. During the second year, in addition to again staying within its cap, a district would have to agree to and implement a state-approved plan for shared services and consolidation.
Last year, 96 percent of school districts, including Marcellus, were able to stay within their property tax levy caps largely through reductions to programs, services and staff.
Oct. 21, 2013
The Marcellus Board of Education adopts the 2014-15 Budget Development Calendar.
** Check this page often for updated information about the 2014-15 budget. **