By Karen Carr Keefe
Erie County Editor
Grand Island School District administrators are working through the next fiscal year’s draft budget to whittle away at expenses and find ways to increase revenue in order to cut the tax rate and the tax levy, yet still maintain an excellent, quality education and an adequate fund balance.
In its second budget input session for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the Grand Island School Board learned on Monday night that the new estimated – but still tentative — property tax rate would be $20.41 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 3.21% increase from the actual tax rate of $19.78 per $1,000 for 2020-21. The estimated property tax rate is based on the current year’s property assessment. The exact rate won’t be known until late July, when the new overall assessed value of Grand Island is provided.
That increase of 3.21% is equal to the allowable increase for the tax levy, which is the total amount to be raised in property taxes.
The current budget gap for the district is set at $1.515 million, slightly higher than the $1.478 million reported at the first review of the draft budget on Feb. 8.
The budget review was again presented by Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for finance and support services. She and Superintendent Brian Graham highlighted some noteworthy impacts to the budget, such as from enrollment decline, retirements and deferral of some program and personnel requests to future year consideration.
The requests for new expenditures has been cut in half, Harris said, from $1.4 million to $744,496. Some of those requests that are under review but at this point still being retained include: requests from the high school for a full-time business teacher, a full-time special education teacher and a part-time English Language Arts teacher.
Items being deferred to future years, for example, include: middle school requests regarding art, technology and physical education. Graham said the district believes those requests can be taken care of with internal coverage in the year ahead. Also, the request to add dollars for health insurance has been moved to the future for further review, the superintendent said.
In the draft budget recap, Harris explained that the anticipated tax levy is $37.804 million, but the tax levy minimum increase is $36.289 million, leaving the budget gap of $1.515 without the additional new requested items estimated to cost $744,496. The budget gap is set at $2.260 million, if those new requests are included in the budget.
“We still have a bit of work to do, for sure, but we will continue to chip away, or chunk away, really, because we’re not chipping at this point,” Harris said.
There was a revision in the calculation of the tax cap, which produced a higher allowable increase of 3.12% from the last calculation. That means the district can collect an additional $1.12 million in property taxes and still fall under the cap the state allows for a yearly increase.
The total anticipated fund balance as of June 30, 2021, is estimated at $8.67 million.
Looking ahead in the budget process, there is:
•A possible budget proposal adoption of April 12.
•A mandatory budget adoption date of April 20.
•A May 10 budget public hearing.
•The community budget vote and board election on May 18.
In other news from the school board meeting, two administrators and three teachers have announced their intention to retire as of July 1, 2021. The teachers are: Patrick Crowley, Annalea Masiello and Craig Warthling.
The administrators are Sidway Principal Denise Dunbar and Assistant High School Principal Karen Surdyke.
In her letter to the district, Dunbar wrote, “It has been a privilege and an honor to be at the helm of Sidway Elementary School for the past 15 years. I have expressed many times that I felt I had the best job in the world. I have had the pleasure of working with the absolute best educators I have ever met, and many amazing students and staff. Grand Island Central School District certainly has the cream of the crop.”