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DiNapoli report finds Niagara-Wheatfield, Lew-Port remain in 'fiscal distress'


Fri, Jan 30th 2015 07:55 pm

Ninety school districts statewide, including two in Niagara County, have been designated as fiscally stressed under New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's Fiscal Stress Monitoring System. DiNapoli's office evaluated 672 school districts with fiscal years ending June 30, 2014.

This is the second year DiNapoli's office has assessed and scored the financial stability of school districts on a fiscal score rating of 0.0 percent to 100.0 percent. The second round of scoring designated 10 school districts in "significant fiscal stress," 27 in "moderate fiscal stress," and 53 as "susceptible to fiscal stress."

Last year, a total of 87 districts were listed in fiscal stress.

For the second straight year, the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District and the Lewiston-Porter School District ranked in the significant fiscal stress category. Niagara-Wheatfield had a fiscal score rank of 88.3 percent - tied for worst in the state with the Wyandanch Union Free School District in Suffolk County. The Lewiston-Porter Central School District finished No. 7 in the ranking with a fiscal score of 71.7 percent, tied with the West Seneca Central School District in Erie County.

 "School districts are the hearts of many of our communities, but they face fiscal pressures that are unlikely to change any time soon," DiNapoli said. "Although the increases in fiscal stress are relatively minor, the same problems persist, including increased deficits and dwindling fund balances. I urge school officials, especially those overseeing districts with deteriorating fiscal health, to use these scores as an impetus for more deliberate and careful long-term budget planning."

Using financial indicators that include year-end fund balance, short-term borrowing and patterns of operating deficits, the monitoring system creates an overall fiscal stress score that classifies whether a district is in "significant fiscal stress," in "moderate fiscal stress," is "susceptible to fiscal stress" or has "no designation."

By comparison, other school districts in Niagara County ranked favorably in the fiscal stress category. The Royalton-Hartland Central School District and Starpoint Central School District both ranked with "no designation" and scores of 0.0 percent. The Wilson Central School District and North Tonawanda School District also had "no designation" and scores of 16.7 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively, in the fiscal stress category.

The 10 school districts classified in "significant stress" included: Wyandanch Union Free School District (Suffolk County), Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District (Niagara), East Ramapo Central School District (Rockland), Lawrence Union Free School District (Nassau), Watervliet City School District (Albany), Copiague Union Free School District (Suffolk), Lewiston-Porter Central School District (Niagara), West Seneca Central School District (Erie), Hempstead Union Free School District (Nassau) and the Peekskill City School District (Westchester).

DiNapoli's report said school districts in fiscal stress share a number of common characteristics. Most are operating with low fund balance, a pattern of operating deficits and limited cash on hand. In addition, DiNapoli's office found high-need urban/suburban school districts were four times more likely to be in fiscal stress than low-need districts.

The scores are based on financial information submitted as part of each district's ST-3 report filed with the State Education Department as of Dec. 31. DiNapoli's report does not include scores for the dependent school districts in the "Big Four" cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. Information for these districts will be incorporated into the scoring for their respective cities later this year.

DiNapoli's report can be viewed at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/fiscalmonitoring/pdf/schools/2015_SchoolStressList.pdf.

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