Tonawanda News — With residents poised to cast an up-or-down vote on school budgets Tuesday, administrators, teachers and increasingly many parents are hoping to strike a balance between maintaining the essentials of education and holding the line on taxes.
To do so, many districts are relying on rainy day funds to offset tax increases— a trend school officials say isn’t sustainable in the long term.
Despite an increase in state aid this year, 97 percent of school districts across New York relied on their cash reserves to stay within the mandated tax cap and avoid cutting educational programs, a report from the New York State School Boards Association indicates.
The three local districts serving the Tonawandas are no exception.
Those reserves have protected Ken-Ton, North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda during the last few, tough years. But, per projections, if districts don’t make efforts to preserve that backup money — all three districts will use them up by 2017.
“I don’t totally agree that reserves should be used” to balance the budget, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services at the North Tonawanda school district, Alan Getter, said. “But in these times, we need to use those (funds) to help and hope that they will return. It doesn’t hurt our budget right now, but eventually, they are going to be used up.”
NT is using a total of $4.7 million of their savings in this year’s upcoming budget — both from its reserves and from its fund balance, which represent two different lines on the budget, but are of a similar nature.
About $1.7 million of that came from the district’s reserves, which will be gone by the 2016-2017 academic year if NT doesn’t stop using the funds at the current rate.
But NT, as well as the two other districts, do have time to tackle the challenge. Getter said there are ways to balance the impending gap — including the district’s voter-approved reserves that have restrictions on how they can be used, as well as general cost-saving measures that may need to be implemented with greater speed.