With the State Legislature adopting a budget that increases funds for education, the Iroquois School District finds itself with a pleasant conundrum: What to do with the $359,607 in extra funds?
At a budget work session Monday, Superintendent Douglas Scofield told the School Board that while the state budget news was a welcome change from the dire financial picture of previous years, he wasn’t convinced the funds would be delivered.
“I have similar concerns,” board member Charles Specht said. “Really, what has changed financially as far as the state goes? Is this the start of the ‘feel good’ period for the politicians before the election?”
Scofield said he targeted $30,000 to upgrade fiber optic connections to the elementary school buildings after an Erie 1 BOCES audit that said the current Internet connections were too slow for required state assessment tests.
Another $100,000 should be set aside for kindergarten and elementary school special education, where increased staffing may be required, he said. New enrollment estimates show some 20 additional students coming into the district.
Beyond that, though, he urged prudence, suggesting the board approve using the remaining $229,607 to reduce reliance on the fund balance in 2013-14. Scofield said that historically the district had used about $1.5 million in fund balance to balance the budget and keep tax rates reasonable. When the state cut funding to schools a few years ago, he said, that number spiked to $2.5 million.
“This is a way to wean off reserves,” Scofield said.
Iroquois is in a sound position approaching the school budget vote this year. With an estimated tax levy increase of 2.24 percent for next year’s budget, residents are looking at one of the lowest tax increases in years and with all programs from the 2012-13 school year remaining intact.
Other options were briefly discussed, including adding new programs, which board member Michele Hovey encouraged the superintendent to consider. Scofield said he had spent much of last week debating whether to expand programs for students but eventually discounted that idea. “If I had more confidence in the state being fiscally stronger, we’d be having a different conversation,” the superintendent said.