2018-03-13 / Academics

Fund Balance, Health Insurance and Building Repairs Top WCS 2018-19 Budget Talks

By Lillian Browne

Townsend Elementary Schoolon North Street in Walton. 
file photo Townsend Elementary Schoolon North Street in Walton. file photo WALTON - The Walton Central School Board of Education (BOE) held a 2018-19 proposed budget community participation session on March 8 to hear residents’ priorities for the upcoming school year.

No one from the public attended the session; and, according to Cuyle Rockwell, communication specialist from Capital Region BOCES, that’s indicative of the trust the public has in school board members, staff and administration.

District Business Manager Tim Maguire is analyzing costs and revenue trends to compile a budget which will not be finalized until state school aid numbers become available. School aid for Walton is projected to increase over last year by 1.34 percent, or $172,898. It is unlikely the Governor’s office will veer too far from that number, Maguire said, which would allow the district to increase taxes by 1.56 percent, or an additional $100,476, and still remain under the state mandated two percent tax cap.

The district anticipates increased costs in special education, health care premiums for staff and contractual expenses, which Maguire likened to an unfunded mandate, or costs that districts are required by the state to pay, but are not state reimbursable.

Maguire indicated that recent trends lean toward a depletion of the district’s fund balance, or unallocated surplus, within the next three to four years, if it continues to be used to offset the annual tax levy.

Maguire compared the district’s fund balance to an individual’s savings account. If one uses that savings account to pay ongoing expenses, like monthly fuel or electric bills, it will “create problems down the road” in the event of an additional unanticipated cost or when the savings run out.

To address that, Maguire is “implementing cost containment strategies” or figuring out what is driving the district’s expenditures with the goal of reducing costs through efficiencies.

The dwindling fund balance is not a pressing issue in the upcoming budget, Maguire said.

The district’s employee health insurer, Superintendent Roger Clough said, has pledged not to increase premiums, though the current contract allows the insurance company to increase premiums with 60 days notice. When asked if staff could be required to shoulder the increase, Clough said, no, staff pays a fixed percentage of health care costs under their contract. The district would be largely responsible to pay for the increase. Any changes to that percentage would have to be written into the contract. The contract is currently under negotiation, Clough said.

Also discussed was the need to plan for facility maintenance or building repairs. Rockwell recommended that the board of education bring the community in on discussions about building projects or any other large expenses, early in the process. “It’s important for people to have a voice,” Rockwell said.

Townsend School repairs and upgrades have been placed on the back burner, as have gymnasium floor repairs, classroom lighting and repairs to locker rooms. WCS BOE President Ronda Williams suggested undertaking “smaller” projects by budgeting for them annually instead of waiting for them to become larger issues. These would still receive building aid, but not require to go out to bond.

Maguire said that though smaller projects present their own challenges, that it is a good strategy. A small-scale repair or upgrade project is not yet included in the upcoming budget.

It is anticipated that a preliminary 2018-19 budget will be released at the board of education’s April 17 meeting.

The next regularly scheduled Walton Central School BOE meeting is scheduled for tonight, March 13 at 6 p.m. There will be a public hearing on the 2018-19 budget on May 1 at 7 p.m. with a vote on the budget to be held on May 15 at the WCS School Bus Garage from noon to 9 p.m.

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