The Cleveland Hill School District knows it has a higher than recommended fund balance, but Superintendent Jon MacSwan said Wednesday that it has been in a prudent position to keep the district in sound financial shape.
District administrators began their budget season this week with a public forum about its fund balance and political realities prior to a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night. The district currently has a fund balance of about $4.5 million, which is 15 percent of its operating budget. The state recommends schools maintain a fund balance no higher than 4 percent.
“We have never tried to hide that we have a fund balance that is significantly higher than the state recommends,” MacSwan said. “We have had to budget on a worst case scenario.”
Administrators defended the high fund balance, which is frequently used to help pay for unanticipated expenses and stabilize the tax rate. Business Manager Dennis Corsaro explained that the state has eliminated funding through its gap elimination adjustments and foundation aid changes, costing Cleveland Hill millions.
State aid “has improved, but it definitely has not come even close to what it was,” Corsaro said. “We would have to raise our taxes 12.7 percent to make up the gap in elimination adjustment” reductions.
MacSwan acknowledged that the district has overestimated budgetary expenses in the past, but is hopeful Cleveland Hill can pass some of its savings back to taxpayers once the School Board can get a clear picture of the state’s financial aid. He credited the Board for making tough decisions to cut staff and programming in the past, along with the district’s proactive approach to refinancing debt, energy efficiency, shared services and restructuring the special education program, to secure Cleveland Hill’s financial future.
“We hope the uncertainty is behind us,” MacSwan said. “We know we need to develop a plan for the fund balance. The district should be stable moving forward.”
The superintendent said he is working with other district administrators to develop a system to maximize student growth over the next 10 to 15 years, “and that is not going to be an increase in staffing.”
Administrators also discussed the Town of Cheektowaga’s reassessment project, but that was not expected to have an impact on the school budget process.