By Alice E. Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
The vote on the Grand Island Central School District’s proposed 2023-24 budget, as well as an election of two trustees from four candidates, is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 16.
This article summarizes what is in the budget, as well as the proposed tax levy, and what could happen if the budget is rejected by the voters. It also includes information about proposition 3, the establishment of a capital reserve fund.
The recommended proposed budget for the 2023-24 school year is $73,727,888. This is made up of $6,323,709, or 9%, for administration; $52,480,585, or 71%, for program; and $14,923,594, or 20%, for capital.
There are 2,800 students in the Grand Island Central School District, and a total of 510 employees.
The budget is proposition one in next week’s vote.
•Where does the money come from?
√ Local property tax levy: The Grand Island Central School District receives $39,594,648 from its property tax levy. From last year to this year, that is an increase of $1,276,308, which ends up being 3.33%.
√ State aid changes: Proposed foundation aid from New York state will be $15,507,863, an increase of $2,168,743 from last year. Last year’s foundation aid was set at $13,339,120. According to Dr. Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for school business and finance, foundation aid has been fully phased in.
√ Total state aid: $26,592,580, which represents an increase of $2,534,954 over last year’s allocation of $24,057,636.
√ Universal pre-kindergarten (UPK): The school district received 75 additional slots, with a total of 185 full-day slots to fill. UPK classrooms will be offered in Sidway Elementary School, as well as by approved providers contracting with the school district: Kinder Kiddz, Care A Lot Child Care Center Inc., St. Timothy Lutheran Child Care and St. Stephen School. The amount of aid for UPK is $991,023, an increase of $405,000 over the prior year’s allocation of $586,023.
•Why a 3.33% increase in the property tax levy, when the tax cap is 2%?
Harris said, “The tax cap formula is a 12-part formula. There are 12 areas in which information has to be provided to help you calculate the end result of what you are allowed to levy, or what you can propose to levy and still be within the tax cap guidelines. I think the biggest thing to make sure that voters understand is, though it has been called a 2% tax cap, the 2% number is one part of the 12-part formula – that does not mean the levy will only increase by 2%. The 3.33% request is within the school district’s allowable levy limit.”
Actual Tax Levy
The estimated tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation is $17.52. For a $180,000 home, with a basic STAR assessment reduction, the increase over last year's tax is $84.72. The estimated basic STAR exemption savings is $508.70.
Much of the budget is “rollover.” This would include:
•Academic programs provided to students, as well as athletics and extracurricular programs
•Salaries for all staff, including substitute teachers and building based subs
•ERS (employee retirement system) and TRS (teacher retirement system) payments
•Utility payments for all buildings owned by the school district
Changes in Proposed Budget
√ Increase the hours of a currently employed part-time art teacher from a 0.4 FTE (full-time-equivalent employee) to 0.5 FTE at a cost of $8,083.
√ Change the designation of an employee from a combined position of English teacher and teaching assistant to that of 1.0 FTE English teacher at a cost of $16,175.
√ Potentially hire a full-time (1.0 FTE) elementary teacher in Kaegebein. The district is monitoring kindergarten enrollment at Sidway Elementary School.
√ Increase contracted services for part-time school resource officers from 1.0 FTE to 2.0 FTE at a cost of $50,000.
√ Hire a cybersecurity and data protection officer at a cost of $118,000. This is a new position, and the amount of money allocated includes benefits.
√ Add flag football for girls. This is a new sports team. The cost is $15,000.
√ Install an elevator in the high school. This cost is covered through the architect business office.
√ Fund the final amount of money being transferred to food service. This completes the five-year plan. The amount is $22,000.
•What happens if the budget is voted down?
“If the budget does not pass, school districts have two options,” Harris said. “You can go out for a second vote, or you go with a contingent budget.”
A contingent budget, according to state law, imposes a tax levy increase of 0%.
“To go with a contingent budget, we have to remove $1,276,308. That is a hefty amount,” Harris said. “There is no way to remove $1.3 million without impacting students’ academic and extracurricular programs. If we have to take $1,276,308 out of the budget, every child is losing almost $456 of a component of their education.”
•Proposition 2 is a request for the purchase of vehicles.
The requests are:
√ Three 65-passenger buses, at a cost of $155,249 each.
√ One 29-passenger bus, at a cost of $95,684
√ Two Ford F350 4x4 – B&G vehicles at a cost of $52,500 each.
The purpose of the vehicle purchases is to maintain current transportation services.
•Proposition 3 is the establishment of a capital reserve fund.
•Why a capital reserve fund?
In 2008, a capital reserve fund was established, with the approval of voters. It had a 15-year term, and it is now expiring. The school district is requesting that a new capital reserve fund, with a 15-year term, be established for the Grand Island Central School District.
Harris explained a capital reserve fund is like a savings account, but on a larger scale.
•How easy is it to access money in a capital reserve fund?
According to Harris, capital reserve and repair reserve are the most restrictive reserves school districts have.
“It requires voter approval to establish,” she said. “Let’s say we want to establish a workers’ comp reserve. We would go to the Board of Education. We would say to them, ‘We want to establish a workers’ comp reserve. This is the thought process behind why we want to establish it.’ The board would say, ‘OK.’ The reserve would be established. But the capital reserve does not function that way.”
Voter approval is necessary for the usage of capital reserve funds, Harris said.
There is a great deal of oversight when it comes to the use of capital reserve funds.
Harris said, “The auditors come in every year. They audit our financial statements. They give some recommendations that are then discussed with the Board of Education, who can say, ‘Hey, yeah, you know what? We’re doing really great. We have additional fund balance. Put $200,000 in that reserve.’ When it comes to the usage of those funds, once it’s been placed in the reserve, the voters have to vote to say yes for us to be able to use them. Their voice is very well heard all throughout the process.”
She added, “Then, we take that information to the state. They review it. They ask a lot of questions. There are a lot of things that they are looking at. They want to know if they need to provide us with aid for this, like it was necessary, or are you just doing whatever you want, willy-nilly?
“When the project is completed, the state receives the final cost report. They’re looking at the financial situation. What pots of money did you use? What did your community say you could use? They are even looking for voter approval. All that information has to be submitted to them. Then you also have the office of state comptroller that could come in at any time and pull any project to review, if they like.”
In 2021, Harris said, voters approved the usage of capital reserve funds for a $24 million project that included the additional multipurpose athletic field. Other elements of the project involved roofing work at a couple of elementary schools and work done in the Huth Road Elementary School cafeteria, among other projects.
“There was about $404,000 that was still in that reserve account, and we used those funds for that project,” Harris said.
Harris explained, “If you’re able to put funds in a savings account or reserve fund, as the school districts call them, then you are planning for the future without having such a heavy impact on your own pocket or the taxpayers’ pockets. That is what pushes school districts to establish a capital reserve fund: To be able to fix up the building, make corrections, take in the different requests of the community when it comes to programs and facilities without having to go out the community and say, ‘Hey, we want to do this project. All these things are great things. We need to fix boilers. We just finished athletic fields. Maybe we’re doing something in the auditorium or with music, and we think these are great things to implement, but to do so, we need to increase your taxes by hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it done.’ ”
It is unlikely that the voters would approve such a large tax increase.
“We’re mindful of that,” Harris said. “We want to be able to put funds aside to help support the cost of whatever the project is and, in doing that, we pay less in interest. All these things are key components to the general fund budget. They are also part of the tax cap calculation. When we have debt increasing, which is what happens when you borrow, that impacts the tax cap calculation, which then impacts what the tax levy is, which then impacts every single community member who pays taxes.
“Having the reserve allows the district to say, ‘Hey community, you’ve supported the district over the years. We’ve spent money wisely. The money that we have over, which is called fund balance, we will put in this reserve account. That way, when we come to you and we say we want a new project, or this is the game plan, or the building needs to be fixed, or a boiler or air conditioning.’ … I know that’s been a big thing for some parents about how hot it can get in the summer or early in the school year. That fund helps us get the project done without it being a burden on the community. That’s really the premise for wanting to establish it.”