CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — In preparation for potential reductions in state aid, the Shenendehowa School District tightened expenditures this spring putting itself in a position to fund all programs, maintain operations, pay all salaries, add to reserves, and still have an unappropriated fund balance of $7.2 million.
Since coming to Shen 15 years ago, Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson has preached the benefits of spending less than 100 percent of the district’s adopted budget each year.
In the past, the district worked to save three percent from its yearly budget. This year, with the possibility of federal and state funding appearing less than vibrant, the district saved four percent.
At the Aug. 25 presentation to the Board of Education, Deputy Superintendent for Finance Kathy Chase told board members the district had spent 96.09 percent of the 2019-2020 budget and had an operational surplus of $7.96 million.
“In March, we took a step back and froze expenditures as much as we could,” she said. “We did this in anticipation that next years is going to be difficult.”
On the expenditure side, Chase said there was $1 million in savings in instructional salaries, including $384,000 in substitute teacher costs, $223,419 savings in administrative salaries, and $661,823 savings in non-instructional salaries.
There was also $141,514 savings in equipment, $1.4 million savings in contractual services, $129,301 savings in textbooks and library books, $165,720 from BOCES, and $756,792 from supplies; including $262,000 saved in fuel.
The largest amount of savings, however, came from employee benefits. In this category the district saved $2.26 million from the adjusted budget; the largest amount, $1.49 million, coming from health insurance.
As part of its budget process, the district had penciled in a rate increase for health insurance of 4.9 percent. The actual rates, however, projected an average increase in costs of just 2 percent. Also helping the case for savings was getting four of the district’s bargaining units to agree to a 1 percent increase their contributions to the health plan.
In a aside that reminded everyone in the room just how unusual the past six months have been, Chase noted that the district’s self-funded dental plan had seen a large savings also, quite possibly she said, “because a lot of people weren’t going to their dentist in the last quarter”.
On the revenue side, the district collected 101 percent of the adjusted budget or $1.92 million more than expected. Those excess funds included $123,375 in excess property tax, $729,751 in additional state aid, and $467,870 in excess interest income.
As she discussed the expected state aid reductions, Chase noted that the district had just received some state funds for last year and found it was short 20 percent from what had been expected.
“We weren’t aware they were even going to touch that,” Chase said. “So it looks like next year is a moving target.”
With the surplus, the district intends to reappropriate $1.5 million as it has in recent years to next year’s budget to reduce the impact on taxpayers, add to the worker’s compensation reserve fund, add to the district’s retirement contribution reserve to manage anticipated shortfalls in state aid, and replenish $660,000 to the Employee Benefit Accrued Liability Reserve Fund.
Chase added that the district will also add $1 million to its Tax Cert fund since she has a large stack of recent claims for lower assessments sitting on her desk.
Robinson gave board members a look at how fast the financial picture could change.
“If nothing bad happens next year, we should end the year with a fund balance of 3.3 percent,” he said. “If federal intervention is withheld our fund balance will be below 2 percent. It’s like driving on the desert and you have 100 miles to go and your car’s showing excessive heat. Somebody is walking in the heat. We never want to be in that situation; where we can’t get to our destination because we don’t have enough capacity to do so.”
If things go bad, Robinson said Shen will be able to continue to offer a quality education, but many many students in the state will get hurt.
“And with kids’ education there is no do-over,” he said.
Also included in the night’s agenda was the Board of Education’s adoption of the revised 2020-2021 tax levy. According to district figures, the true value tax rate per $1,000 is $16.40; a decrease of 1.31 percent from last year.
Taxpayers in Malta and Waterford, where the equalization rate is 100 percent, will be billed that amount per $1,000 assessed value.
In the town of Ballston, where the equalization rate is 85.7 percent, taxpayers will be billed $19.11 per $1,000. In the town of Stillwater, where the equalization rate is 86 percent, taxpayers will be billed $19.07 per $1,000. In the Town of Halfmoon, where the equalization rate is 57.25 percent, taxpayers will be billed $28.89 per $1,000. In the town of Clifton Park, where the equalization rate is 53 percent, taxpayers will be billed a rate of $32.14 per $1,000.