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By Alice E. Gerard
Both inflation and an expected increase in state aid will be factors in the process of crafting a final 2023-24 budget, said Dr. Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for business and finance, speaking after the Grand Island Board of Education’s first budget input session on Feb. 13. The Board of Education has two more budget input sessions to recommend changes to the budget before a public hearing is held on May 8. The vote on the budget is scheduled for May 16 at Grand Island High School.
Anticipated budget for 2023-24 school year: $73,337,968.
The current 2022-23 budget is $70,206,668.
What’s in the preliminary budget?
Local property tax levy projection for 2023-24: “The tax rate for the ’22-’23 year was $16.96 per thousand of home value. You will see that, at the time we were doing the ’22-’23 budget, we were projecting a tax rate of $17.10.
“Right now, based on the tax levy calculation, we are estimating a levy of $17.52 for the 2023-2024 school year, which is an increase of 3.33%,” Harris explained.
State aid changes: State aid is expected to increase, Harris said, as the Grand Island Central School District anticipates receiving $1.96 million in foundation aid for the 2023-24 school year, an increase of 14.7% over the 2022-23 school year. State aid is also expected to be increased for the universal prekindergarten program and for high-impact tutoring, a new set-aside program.
“Salary and benefits usually take up the largest part of any school district’s budget. It usually ranges about 70 to 80% of a district’s budget,” Harris said.
Some of the anticipated increases are for:
•Substitute teachers: An increase in pay, due to minimum wage increases and contractual increases, Harris said, explaining, “We are just trying to make sure we are more competitive with other school districts, as we’re looking to bring in substitute teachers. It’s a very lucrative market of who has the highest rate and what is the daily rate, so we try to keep our district competitive with the rest of the school districts.”
•Anticipated retirement benefits. “We have more people mentioning that they will be retiring,” Harris said, adding that, for the Board of Education’s second budget input session, scheduled for March 13, the district will know how many staff members will retire and will be able to budget accordingly.
•An increase in the cost of BOCES services, as well as “different program initiatives that the school district is looking at implementing. They have cost increases, just as everyone else has increases in the current market with the inflation rate,” Harris said.
•Utilities, which “has increased substantially,” Harris explained. That increase is estimated to be between 15% and 20%. “Once we know that information, we budget accordingly because, if you don’t, you have to pay your utility bill, whether you have the funds there or not.”
•Fuel for buses and trucks and other vehicles, which are anticipated to increase, Harris explained.
•Special education: According to Harris, some adjustments are occurring, and students are going to different placements. Currently, one Island student is enrolled in St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. “The state does aid you fully, but it’s the following year. You have to budget to pay it, but the state will increase the aid to cover what you’ve paid.”
•Athletics: “The contract with the referees has been settled, and there have been increases there. That’s not just a Grand Island thing. Everyone who falls within our league is dealing with the same thing,” Harris said.
•Transportation costs, due to the increase in cost for supplies and gasoline. “What once cost $70 has now tripled in price for some of the supplies and equipment in the transportation department,” Harris said.
American Rescue funds: The Grand Island Central School District has been using this funding from the federal government to cover some of the expenses of conference and travel. Because the American Rescue funding is expected to expire in September of 2024, the school district is slowly transitioning funding back into the general fund budget to “allow for professional development to still occur,” Harris said. “That way, transition is seamless” for the 2024-25 school year. “As we’re planning, we’re not just planning for one year. We’re looking at this year and for multiple years. What does this look like, and how do we make this work?”
Next: Updates after the Board of Education’s second budget input session.