CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — The Shenendehowa Board of Education last week adopted a budget proposal for next year crafted to maintain a balance between program preservation and diminishing marginal returns while avoiding a structural deficit.
The 2020-2021 budget proposal of $181,657,429, a 2.21 percent increase in spending, is just shy of $4 million more in expenditures. Calculations for the district’s budget are based figures from the state budget approved in April.
Next year’s budget proposal is $.5 million less than the state’s tax cap. It comes with a budget levy of $128.3 million; an increase of $3.26 million.
The Shen figures estimate the tax increase for homeowners of the district to be less than one-tenth of one percent more than last year’s bill. Shen Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said expectations are high that final tax bills will see reductions from the 2019-2020 bills.
Figures from the state budget approved in April show Shen receiving $48,236 million in state aid, an increase of nearly $250,000 from last year. However, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, final state aid figures for education shown in the state budget are expected to be reduced.
In his budget presentation to the board at the May 19 virtual board meeting Robinson reminded board members that the district must not waiver from its North Star, preserving quality programs for its students.
The budget, he said, is not simply about finances but must be viewed through an equity lens that is axiomatic, inclusive, and diverse.
By that he meant when considering the budget one must view it from a point that keeps in mind what else needs to be done to see that all students are succeeding and realizing their full potential; what should be done to see that school and classroom experience is more relevant; and what more can be done to see that the district is responsive and ready to capitalize on emerging changes and cultural shifts.
“Fiscal responsibility isn’t necessarily about dollars and cents; it’s really about how effectively and carefully we are using the resources that we are fortunate to have as a school community,” he said.
To weather what he sees as a looming financial storm from the state, Robinson presented a multiyear approach to budgeting.
The plan attempts to maintain a balance between preserving programs while staying cognizant of the point at which cuts start resulting in diminishing returns. That effort, he said, must be juxtaposed against making decisions that result in a structural deficit.
“We don’t want to get in a position where we create a hole that we can’t fill with the prospect of future added revenues,” he said. “Some people say cut, cut, cut and that will get you to a number, but in reality, it reduces programs where it’s a misuse of funds to continue to fund certain things and it will create a structural deficit that we will continue to face as a school district.”
During the next two years Robinson said the district will be monitoring and trimming expenses wherever possible. In years three, four, and five there is hope the country will be back to a semblance of normality, and administrators will then work on budget rightsizing to meet students’ emergent needs.
“We have to be very careful about the decisions we make today recognizing what we do today will affect tomorrow’s opportunities,” Robinson said.
With the budget proposal presented to the board, Robinson noted that the average true value tax for the past three years has been a -1.33 percent for the towns of Clifton Park and Halfmoon, the two towns that contribute the most students to the district. He expects that to continue with the proposed budget.
To do that Robinson said he remains focused on finding ways to have the district continue doing what it’s doing with programs while still saving money. That includes leveraging resources from retirements, rightsizing Shen’s structure through attrition, and containing mandated and contractual costs in areas like health insurance, retirement and pension costs, and collective bargaining.
“We don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish,” he said. “We don’t want to make a decision today that seems to be politically popular that’s going to be a tremendous cost; a cost not seen not just in the price tag but a cost in the erosion of quality of programming and services for our students.
"The budget is more than just what we’re going to spend as a school system. The budget reflects the investment that the larger community makes in the school district year after year.”