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A look at 2024-25 Grand Island Central School District budget

Sat, May 18th 2024 07:00 am

By Alice E. Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

The vote on the Grand Island Central School District’s proposed 2024-25 budget, as well as an election of three trustees, is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21.

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.

The recommended proposed budget for 2024-25 school year is $77,932,254. This is made up of $6,817,101, or 9%, for administration; $56,410,420, or 72%, for program; and $14,704,734, or 19%, for capital.

There are 2,802 students in the Grand Island Central School District, and a total of 550 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 $40,573,587 from its property tax levy. From last year to this year, that is an increase of $978,939, which ends up being 2.47%.

State aid: According to Bob Merkle, assistant superintendent for school business and finance, “Last year, there was a huge increase in foundation aid. We got an extra $2 million in foundation aid. This year, we got zero. Originally, for foundation aid, they had us at a negative $159,368. With the finalized budget, they restored the $159,368. But, unfortunately, it’s a zero increase from last year to this year.

“State aid comprises about a third of our budget, but all our costs continue to go up. Without having that additional state aid, it’s creating a lot of challenges to school districts this year.”

State aid: The largest chunk of state aid is foundation aid, which is expected to be $15,518,924. This represents no change from last year. The governor’s original budget proposal included a cut of $159,368 in foundation aid for the Grand Island Central School District, which was restored when the budget was passed by the State Legislature on April 21.

Total state aid is projected by New York state to be $26,523,627. Last year, projected state aid was $26,592,000. This represents a decrease of $68,733. That is largely due to the building aid decrease of $317,787, but an increase in transportation aid of $430,047. There are also changes in excess cost aid in two categories: high-cost excess cost increased by $108,110 and private excess cost aid decreased by $15,196.

“Excess cost is for special education students, and those supplement the funds needed to provide those students with the services that they need,” Merkle explained.

Universal pre-kindergarten (UPK): The school district has 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, which is the same as last year’s allotment.

Why a 2.47% increase in the property tax levy, when the tax cap is 2%?

“The tax cap formula is a 12-part formula,” Merkle said. “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 2.47% request is within the school district’s allowable levy limit.”

Actual tax levy:

The estimated tax rate per thousand is $17.87. For a $180,000 home, with a basic STAR assessment reduction, the increase over last year's tax is $77.62. The estimated basic STAR exemption savings is $536.

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

•FICA payments

•Debt service

•Utility payments for all buildings owned by the school district

Changes in the proposed budget:

√ Add a science teacher in Grand Island High School (1.0 full-time equivalent) at $100,000

√ Replace a retiring kindergarten teacher at Sidway Elementary School (1.0 full-time equivalent) at $100,000. Earlier plans were to eliminate this position by attrition.

√ Addition of a Blue Crew Academy pilot coordinator at $1,700, along with $3,000 for supplies and materials for the program.

“The Blue Crew is a program that the high school is going to be putting in place to help students be successful in high school,” Merkle said. “Once a month, they’re going to do activities. The activities are going to be different for each of the classes. The freshmen will have a certain activity catered to them, like study skills and things to help them be successful. The seniors would have something more on the lines of college or career prep that are more relevant to them. It’s really to take a pause from the traditional academic program and help the students build other skills, and help them gain knowledge in other areas to make them more well rounded and to make sure that they have the support they need to be successful.”

√ Seal of civic readiness coordinator (0.2 index) at $907

“The seal of civic readiness is an additional seal that high school students can get on their diploma,” Merkle said. “It’s really to help them learn to be a well-rounded citizen, so they’ve got to learn about their community. They can do some community service. The coordinator will track all their progress toward that seal and, eventually, help them complete that when they’re done.”

According to the New York State Education Department, there are certain requirements for earning this seal, which include four years of social studies, a research project and a service-learning project.

√ An increase in the community education stipend of $2,000

“We’ve increased the number of offerings through community education, so that person will get a slight raise, as well,” Merkle said.

√ Resurface the main gym floor for $35,000.

“The main gym floor has quite a bit of wear and tear on it, so we’ll be looking to get that resurfaced this next year, probably over the summer, when it’s not being used, to get that back in a good position for our athletes and for our phys ed classes,” Merkle explained.

√ DPO, RICONE, and enhanced cybersecurity coser for $88,575. All of these have to do with cyber security.

“It’s to help us enhance our cyber security,” Merkle said. “The DPO is a group of data privacy officers from around the region. They have meetings once a month, and they get updates about recent threats, what vulnerabilities hackers are trying to exploit. Josh Nichols, our data privacy officer, will be able to attend those meetings and get that information. RICONE is similar. It provides information for data privacy officers in cybersecurity. The enhanced cybersecurity coser is managed detection response; so, it’s constantly monitoring, not only our end points, which would be a phone or a computer, but it also monitors our network for any cyber threats. Should we have an attack, the coser will provide us with some assistance in dealing with that attack and restoring our services.”

In 2021, there was a cyber attack on a local school system.

“That was a tough one,” Merkle explained. “They lost all their data, and they weren’t backed up properly. They had to start all over again. They had to shut down schools for a short period of time while they rebuilt everything and got everything back in place. They lost a lot of information in that attack.”

√ Camera additions/upgrades increase for $10,000.

“Every year, we work with our security team to identify any spots where we don’t have cameras, where we might need them,” Merkle said. “We will add cameras where we don’t have cameras and need them, but, at the same time, we also replace old cameras, as well. Every year, we evaluate our entire system and come up with a plan to replace some of the old cameras and add any ones that we might need.”

What happens if the budget is voted down?

“If the budget does not pass, school districts have two options,” Merkle 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 $978,939,” Merkle said. “That is a hefty amount. There is no way to remove nearly $1 million without impacting students’ academic and extracurricular programs. If we have to take $978,939 out of the budget, every child is losing almost $350 of a component of their education.”

Proposition 2 is a request for the purchase of vehicles.

The requests are:

√ Two 65-passenger buses, at a cost of $165,440 each

√ One 42-passenger bus with a rear lift gate, at a cost of $192,751

√ Two Ford F350 4x4 – B&G vehicles at a cost of $54,539 each

The purpose of the vehicle purchases is to maintain current transportation services.

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