Hours after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presented his preliminary state budget, Lake Shore School Superintendent James Przespasniak told the School Board that the state aid figures could leave the district looking at cuts to programs as it begins its 2014-15 budget process.
“It’s pretty similar to what he proposed last year,” Przespasniak said during the Lake Shore School Board meeting Tuesday. “It is not a favorable number to the Lake Shore School District.”
Daniel Pacos, assistant superintendent of schools for administration and finance, said if the figures do not change, the district is set to lose about $3 million in state aid. A Buffalo News comparison of funding levels from 2013-14 that were adopted by the State Legislature compared to the governor’s proposal for 2014-15 found a 0 percent change.
Pacos said when the governor released the figures, it did not come as a surprise to the district.
“They didn’t tell us anything we didn’t predict,” Pacos said.
When the state initially cut state aid to schools, Przespasniak noted the board was advised to dip into its fund balance to help offset the cut. Calling it a “Catch-22,” the superintendent said the district is now listed by the state comptroller’s office as being under “moderate fiscal stress” because it has continued to use money from its fund balance to make up the difference.
“We have to start weaning ourselves away,” Przespasniak said.
In recent years, the district has closed two elementary schools. reduced transportation costs and made staff cuts to keep tax rates reasonable. Now Przespasniak told the board as it gets into the heart of the budget process, cutting programs may be next.
“We will be talking about programs. It’s what we have left, unfortunately,” Przespasniak said.
Pacos suggested the district to reach out to State Sen. Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman David DiPietro to fight in Albany on behalf of the district.
School Board Vice President Carla Thompson suggested the district send a letter to Grisanti and DiPietro outlining their concerns to see if Lake Shore can receive additional aid.
According to Pacos, one of the problems is that the state still uses the same equation it did in 2008 to figure out state aid figures in 2014. Pacos pointed out that when the formula was first being put into place, the Town of Evans was updating its assessment figures.
The superintendent told the board other districts have similar concerns about how these figures are calculated, and as a result, a rally is scheduled for Feb. 27 at Kenmore East High School to address the problem.
Przespasniak also told the board another “feel good” initiative that will be discussed in greater detail at its work session on Feb. 4 is a possible school tax exemption program for veterans.
“It’s a hidden increase to everyone if the exemption is allowed by the school district,” Przespasniak said.
It is a program that the state would give each district the decision on whether to approve the exemption, the superintendent said. This could lead to a higher tax rate for non-veterans.
“It will be a challenging budget season, no matter how you look at it,” Przespasniak said.
There are a number of ways the district is looking at to save money, including grants for energy conservation.
However, Przespasniak added it is “still not enough to get us out of this situation.”