Lancaster school officials are looking to a boost in state aid, offering an employee retirement incentive and possibly making deeper spending cuts to balance the district’s 2013-14 budget.
The draft budget for the coming school year would raise spending by 5 percent, or $4.5 million, over the $91.5 million budget for 2012-13, officials said Monday night.
At that spending level, the district would begin the year with a $2.4 million budget shortfall even if it raises the property tax levy by the maximum amount allowed under state law.
“We still have a lot of work to do here,” said Marie MacKay, vice president of the board, during the meeting in the former Central Avenue Elementary School.
MacKay drew an analogy to the method used to announce the selection of a new pope.
“This is not the white smoke yet. This is the black smoke.”
School Board members emphasized that the draft budget revealed Monday is a work in progress. They said that district officials will do all they can to bring the budget into balance without sharply raising taxes.
The state would allow the district to raise its tax levy, the total amount to be collected in property taxes, by as much as 5.99 percent, but this prospect had little support at Monday’s work session.
“That’s the limit that we could request,” said Kenneth E. Graber, board president. “That is not what we’re asking for.”
Board members and district administrators face a difficult task in balancing the budget, which at this point would rise by 5 percent, to $96 million, largely because of the increased cost of staff salaries and benefits.
While expenses are rising, total state aid for the district would fall by $739,000 next year, or 2.6 percent, according to Jamie L. Phillips, assistant superintendent of business and support services. However, she said she remains hopeful the State Legislature will provide more aid to schools than was promised by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in his proposed state budget.
Phillips said the complicated formula employed by the state to determine the cap on property tax increases for every school district would allow Lancaster to raise its tax levy by 5.99 percent, or $2.7 million, over the figure for 2012-13.
The district raised its tax levy by 1.88 percent between the 2011-12 budget and the budget for 2012-13, and School Board members and district officials Monday cautioned residents not to take the 5.99 percent figure as gospel. “This is by no means a finished product,” Phillips said.
Still, the district faces a $2.4 million budget shortfall even if it raises the tax levy by the full 5.99 percent, so any attempt to lower the tax increase would require further cutting elsewhere in the budget.
MacKay, the vice president, vowed that School Board members would scrutinize the draft spending plan in the weeks to come.
“We’re going to look at things again to see where we want to cut,” she said.
Superintendent Edward J. Myszka said he already has begun discussing with representatives of the district’s employee unions the possibility of offering a retirement incentive.
Employees who retire likely would not be replaced, saving money in the 2013-14 budget, Myszka said.
The draft budget already anticipates cutting two elementary school positions. District officials will present a revised budget, with updated state aid figures, at the board’s meeting April 11. Board members will vote April 16 on the final version that will go before voters for approval.