Bleak budget forecasts for the 2014-15 academic year already are forcing Depew School District officials to tighten spending.
Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey on Tuesday night told the Board of Education that the three largest cost drivers – salaries, health benefits and retirement – are expected to increase more than $1.5 million over this year’s budget. Salaries will rise by 3.5 percent ($616,886), health care costs by 10.52 percent ($597,107) and retirement expenses by 10.64 percent ($332,070).
As a result, Rabey has directed district Business Administrator Susan Arena to freeze spending for materials and supplies, including library books, software and BOCES services.
“Our goal will be to maintain the current level of expectations for the instructional program for all of our students, and therefore, any future purchases necessary to foster that goal will be evaluated on an individual basis,” he said.
Several other factors contributed to the move, Rabey said, including the state’s tax cap legislation, which limits districts’ ability to raise taxes above 2 percent, or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. Districts are permitted allowances that make it possible for the tax levy increase to climb above 2 percent, and Depew’s current $38.9 million budget included an increase of 2.97 percent.
However, Rabey said that since the Consumer Price Index is projected to be 1.66 percent, the tax levy increase limit will be set there before allowances.
This could decrease the amount of funds the district could raise from taxpayers next year.
This, coupled with the state’s unpredictability in doling out aid, puts the district in a bind.
“It is our focus to preserve the integrity of the education that we provide to our students and at the same time continue to maintain a high level of fiscal responsibility,” Rabey said.
The tentative budget work session set for Jan. 7 has been canceled because administrators will not have enough key information.
The administration hopes to discuss next year’s spending plan during the Board of Education meeting Jan. 21 and have a first draft by the end of January.
Also during the meeting, Rabey updated the board about implementation of the Common Core learning standards, stating that he and Assistant Superintendent Susan Frey have met with teachers from all schools to address their concerns about the process and use of the modules that are helping to shape the new curriculum.
He said that the overall outcome of the meetings was that teachers are frustrated with the brief time frame for implementation and that gaps in key concepts may not be addressed this year but over several years as students work through the curriculum.