East Aurora School District administrators have crafted a balanced budget of just under $30 million for the new school year, partly by adjusting revenues and increasing the tax levy by 3.37 percent.
But some School Board members are now saying they want programs and fifth- and sixth-grade electives studied as potential areas for further trims.
The board haggled over points of the second budget draft Superintendent Brian D. Russ presented last week, which had closed a $150,000 budget gap.
But after considerable discussion, some said they were not comfortable with such things as an additional $50,000 in anticipated sales tax revenues and another $50,000 transfer from debt service.
“The administration needs to look at programming for potential cuts,” Board Vice President Kathyann Lorka said. “We need to be fiscally responsible. A lot could be re-looked at.”
Lorka went so far as to say to the superintendent: “I don’t think it’s a healthy budget, so work your magic, Brian.”
The district is looking at using $1.15 million of its surplus to offset expenses. The district’s total estimated fund balance is at $2.25 million at year end, but it is planning on using $1.15 million of that toward next year’s spending plan.
The primary frustration among some on the board and the administration was that the district instructed Russ to prepare a budget that spared any program or faculty cuts this year and offered a year of stability from previous years’ budget troubles. Board members Jessica Armbrust, MaryBeth Covert and Kimberlee Danieu all said they could support a 3.37 percent increase in the tax levy if it meant preserving programs and staff.
“I feel very strongly that this was the year to take off, trying to hold steady and normalize,” Armbrust said. “Why cut now, if we don’t have to? For what we don’t know the future will be?”
Board member Stephen Zagrobelny insisted the district needs to try harder to offer a budget that lives more within its means.
“We’ve made our problems for this year worse in order to get something we think we can’t do without,” he said. “I’d like to go through the budget and identify some things we can do without ...
“I think it was very healthy to cut eight to nine teachers like we did last year because we’re living within our means. We seem to be squeezing this budget around the edges,” Zagrobelny said. “They are squeezing in areas on paper only, and that will hurt us down the road.”
Board member Eric Sweet said he feels the 3.37 percent tax levy increase is too high for the community and would like to see another option. However, he said it’s not time to panic.
“It’s not worth beating ourself up over. It’s not at a 7 percent levy increase,” Sweet said. “We have some meetings left.”
Russ was clearly frustrated, but agreed to have another hard look at the budget figures.
“At the beginning of the budget, we were told not to cut programs or positions, and that’s exactly what we did,” he said. “This [new message] is something completely different now. It’s ridiculous. If you want us to lower the levy, it’s going to have to come from programs.”
Russ also noted to Zagrobelny: “You may not like the budget, but it is balanced.”
Covert said she thinks the district is still feeling the pain from last year’s staff cuts.
“I have less concern about the 3.37 percent tax levy, but am more concerned about a healthy budget,” she said.
Lorka, however, said she feels the 3.37 percent tax levy increase recommendation is a little high. “We’ve incurred a lot of costs to do that,” she said. “I think there has to be some give and take here.”
The district is holding a community forum on the budget at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria of the Middle School, 430 Main St. The board plans to adopt next year’s final budget April 10 and hold the required public hearing May 8. If necessary, though, final budget discussion could still be held on April 24.