By Paul S. Pinto
Western New York experienced a rejection of several public school district budgets last month. This situation is echoed across New York State public schools.
It is time for the financial administrators of each public school district to step up to the challenge.
What’s the challenge, you may ask? It’s called fiscal responsibility for the taxpayers of New York State. How?
As financial administrators of each public school in New York State compile budgets for the May school budget vote, the data utilized is, for lack of a better term, a projection. The state aid amount, equalization rate percentages, home assessments and local funding data are “generalized” in order to compute the percentage to levy taxes for a vote.
Following the public vote to levy taxes (successful or not), public school districts complete a computation of budget data during the summer months. For example, the New York State aid figure to each district is finalized, assessments from the assessor of each municipality are received, equalization rates are finalized by the New York State Office of Real Property Services and, like in preparing for a budget vote, the percentage to levy taxes is computed.
For a fiscally responsible school district, if the percentage is different from the advertised figure from the budget election, each public school financial administrator should enable a “lower” percentage.
In other words, if they performed their budget calculations in a responsible manner (overestimating expenses, underestimating revenue), such a district can easily lower the percentage to levy taxes by 0.5 percent or even 1 percent. It’s a fiscally responsible practice that demonstrates to the taxpayers how “sensitive” the public school district is to taxes.
In most cases, however, the public school financial administrator retains a tight lip, offers little to no explanations on the “real” data during the summer months and keeps the “extra” money either in reserves or expense accounts that are unaccounted for.
My experience has demonstrated the former is a far better approach to show taxpayers how fiscally responsible a public school district can operate by recalculating its data, publicly explaining the difference (at a school board meeting, or through a school newsletter, for example) and finally to actually lower the levy even when taxpayers have approved the percentage.
It’s good planning and sound fiscal navigation for any public school district.
Paul S. Pinto is chief academic officer of My School Choice, LLC, in Derby.