by Kathleen Duff
The Grand Island Board of Education held a public budget forum before a crowd of 15 people Tuesday evening at Bible Presbyterian Church's Family Life Center on Love Road.
Superintendent Robert Christmann talked through an outline of the proposed 2012-13 budget approved by the board on April 2. He clarified the definitions of the tax levy and tax rate - two important components of the annual school budgets for any community. A tax levy is the total amount of money a community raises through its property taxes. For this budget year, the tax levy is capped at 3.25 percent. The actual tax rate increase is 2.4 percent.
Christmann pointed out that during his time as superintendent tax rate increases have averaged 1.1 percent. Major impact expenditure jncreases and state aid that is lower by $3 million since 2008-09 contributed to the board of education's struggle to close an initial $7 million gap between revenues and expenditures. The proposed budget is $53,079,789.
Christmann also noted that most state aid goes to rural and "high need" districts and that areas such as Clarence and Grand Island are considered "wealthy" and receive far fewer dollars. On a positive note, Grand Island receives a good amount of Erie County sales tax because that total tax amount is divided by the number of students in the county. As the trend for more bew construction and more new students entering Grand Island continues, so does the growth of the sale tax pie the Island receives.
When questioned about how much money can be carried over from budget year to budget year, Christmann responded that 4 percent is the figure and that this is a planned carryover to cover possible emergencies and unforeseen expenditures the may come in the next budget year. Christmann also pointed out that state auditors often criticize carrying over that amount, but that it is legal and smart planning for a district to do so. He has seen other school districts get into serious debt problems when they spend all their budget without such a plan ahead.
Some suggestions from the public that Christmann and the board said they would look into are natural gas school buses. He reiterated a familiar philosophy of the board: namely, that it welcomes input from the public regarding cost-cutting measures and anything that would improve the schools "for the kids." Community members expressed frustration over state union rules which do not allow more volunteer participation in the schools and over how much money the local district must pay into the Teacher Retirement System.
The budget goes to vote on Tuesday, May 15, at the high school gym. The entire outline of Christmann's presentation may be viewed at www.k12.ginet.org.