With a current budget gap of $286,138 for the 2014-15 school year, the Tonawanda City School District is close to a $30.59 million spending plan that could potentially increase the tax levy by 2.55 percent. The School Board and a community budget advocacy team heard the latest report during a meeting Tuesday night in Tonawanda High/Middle School.
District officials have narrowed the budget gap over the past few months, most recently eliminating $195,370 by replacing six positions vacated by retirement with 3.5 employees at entry level pay, along with cuts to the BOCES, facilities and electricity tentative appropriations.
Administrators also presented three other potential tax levy increases, ranging from 2.0 percent to 4.4 percent. Each budget plan includes the $195,370 in reductions, but offers few specifics of what would be eliminated as the tax rate decreases.
There are a number of ways the district can balance the budget, according to officials. Tonawanda could receive a boost in revenue when the state budget is finally scheduled to be approved on April 1; about $2,000 in discretionary spending is targeted for cuts in each of the school buildings; $150,000 in proceeds from the sale of the Central School building could be put directly into next year’s budget instead of into savings; and $40,000 could be eliminated if the district comes to an agreement with other local schools to eliminate the junior varsity athletics program.
“We’re looking at a (state) budget that’s hopefully on time and with an increase in revenue,” said Richard Hitzges, a BOCES administrator helping the district with its budget planning.
Cuts in the Curriculum and Instruction budget, staffing and non-mandated courses, along with savings from shared services and an energy performance contract, can also help, but no exact numbers were specified Tuesday.
According to the state’s mandated tax cap system, Tonawanda can get residents to approve a budget with a simple majority vote with a tax levy increase of up to 4.4 percent. The figure is unusually high this year because Tonawanda will see a one-time exemption due to the district beginning principal payments on its $11.9 million capital project from 2011. Normally, Tonawanda would be capped at 1.46 percent this year.
Board President Sharon Stuart was concerned the public would blame a tax increase entirely on the $11.9 capital project. But Hitzges noted the state’s gap elimination adjustment program that has reduced funding for schools is a major cause for tax hikes as well.
“You wouldn’t need to make cuts if you had the full aid (from the state),” he said.
The district must adopt a budget in April, with a community vote set for May 20.