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Dr. Rubie Harris interview, part 3

Sat, Apr 2nd 2022 07:00 am

By Alice E. Gerard

More of our conversation with Dr. Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for business and finance of the Grand Island Central School District.

This section is related to revenues received by the Grand Island Central School District, as well as sources of funding, dealing with a budget gap, and BOCES.

Alice: Could you talk about the pandemic adjustment?

Dr. Harris: Two years ago, if you remember this, we received CARES funds. What the governor did was he took out $433,000 from our general fund budget and then backfilled it with the money that the federal government gave us. So, we didn’t receive any financial increase. But he said we got CARES funds. So that was a big push for us when we were planning for the ’21-22 budget year. A big push that we said to our local legislators was, “No. Do not allow him to do that again. We need an increase in funds to assist what is happening with the pandemic, not a wash.” He took my money away and then backfilled it with federal money. So, I really didn’t get anything new.

Think about it. We received new federal funds that came out over the last year and a half. We received around $4 or $5 million to spend over three or four years. Imagine the state saying, “Hey, the federal government gave you $5 million, but I’m going to reduce your state aid by $5 million.” The state gave me $5 million, but the governor did a washout, and you (the state) kept the increase. I’m not seeing it. I just have two different pots of money, but no new money to do anything.

That’s what happened with the CARES and pandemic adjustment. It was a mess. And we still have to do federal reports for it, which really made me mad, because I didn’t get any new money. They’re saying, “How did you spend your money?” “On salaries. I needed to cover salaries, because you didn’t give me new funds.” It’s been interesting.

Now with the American Rescue, the new federal dollars are additional funds. So, it’s not a wash.

(Note: The March 7 update of the budget listed the budget gap as $1,285,798. That’s the gap between requested funding and available revenue.) Making the budget is a process. That’s why we start it so early, and that’s why it goes so long, because it is making sure that people’s voices are heard; that the Board of Education is able to give input; that we are scrubbing areas before we put our final component together, and looking at how these decisions affect the financial future. It’s definitely a process.

Between now and April 4, I have to somehow become a magician. So, with Dr. Graham and our admin team, we will have a couple more meetings just to see what’s necessary, what can come out. It’s not to say that, on April 4, the gap is closed. We are working to see what the possibilities are.

In the presentation, when Dr. Graham talks about retirements and replacements, we are looking at what we’re offering and what our class sizes are in the high school. Do you have seven kids taking a course because it’s a course that they’re interested in? How does that work? And kids are becoming more and more interested in BOCES. You have a lot of kids who are leaving here to go to a BOCES program for whatever they’re doing: auto mechanics, cosmetology, culinary. BOCES is getting pretty suave with what they’re offering. They definitely know how to grab the kids and wheel them in.

Alice: I would think that they are doing some good advertising.

Dr. Harris: Don’t get me wrong. When you look at the different offerings and the things they’re coming up with, they’re really cool. If I was in high school, I would probably have said to my mom, “I want to do this.” And my mother would say, “But I thought you wanted to go to college for this.” “But this looks fun. Can’t I do something fun when I’m in high school? I think I’d like that!” When you go to college, you get opportunities to explore, but you’re also paying for that opportunity. But, if you’re in high school, it’s costing a fortune. It’s just not costing you a fortune. So, they (BOCES) get creative. We take a lot into consideration when reviewing all of that.

Alice: If they go into culinary, it’s a great benefit to the parents …

Dr. Harris: … When they cook for me. Yes. You can stay here forever! Cook me breakfast!

At the last board meeting, there were some questions asked, and I wanted to make sure that the information was provided. So, we have BOCES aid. There are some lines that talk about textbooks. So, a textbook fund increase, but it’s not really an increase. We’re just moving the money from a central line code back into the buildings. It’s really the same dollar amount. I just like to show that for transparency purposes over the board thinking, “Are you giving them more money on the back end?” No. These are the numbers.

I think that it’s also important to show health insurance, and I explained to them that all of our union groups are in the self-funded plan now. That is a change that happened on March 1 of this year. So now, everyone is (in the self-funded plan). Before, they were not. So, there’s some money movement there.

People are asking for conference and travel back. We took it away two years ago when COVID happened, because people weren’t going anywhere. We used the funds for other things. Now people want to do professional development opportunities. They want to go to different places to receive those opportunities. “Can we have our funds back?” This is just showing it. It’s not saying that the board will say, “Yes, this gets to stay.” I wanted everything to be very transparent of what those requests were.

•Next week: Teacher retirement and other issues relating to budgeting.

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