Tonawanda News

March 12, 2014

Tonawanda district faces $821K budget gap

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Board members in the Tonawanda City School District reviewed cost-cutting options and asked school principals to review their budgets Tuesday night as part of the attempt to reduce a projected $821,508 budget gap.

“Everyone could go back in the budget and see what is a need and what is a want,” school board President Sharon Stuart said. 

The principals agreed to take a second look at their proposals, but argued that they have not asked for many increases and that finding more cuts will be difficult.

“We’re down (to) pretty bare bones right now,” Fletcher Principal John McKenna said. “I hope the community understands we’ve been cutting for five years. We are beyond bare right now.”

The working draft budget for the 2014-2015 academic year specifies a current budget of $30,882,892 — above the estimated revenue of $30,061,384. But that revenue does not account for a rise in tax levy, which voters would have to approve, or a possible increase in state aid.

“We are hoping to get more state aid. That would really help us close the gap,” Superintendent James Newton said.

If the board chose to implement the current budget without any reductions, the tax levy would increase by 7.03 — higher than the district’s 4.41 tax levy limit. Overriding the limit would require 60 percent of residents to vote in favor of the budget.

That’s proved a difficult proposition for many districts in the region who have tried it and Tonawanda district leaders expressed reservations about trying it.

“We are not recommending that,” interim Financial Manager Richard Hitzges said. 

Newton presented reduction options Tuesday night, including the use of money from the Highland school sale, savings on employee health insurance and the use of a grant for an instructional coach.

The board also approved six retirements at its meeting Tuesday. Replacing those positions with new employees would save $180,000.

But even with those four reductions — which amount to $340,000 in savings — the district would still have a gap assuming a 2 percent or a 3 percent levy increase to stay within the state tax cap.

The board is also considering using the $165,000 in revenue from the sale of Central School to close the gap. But that approach could cause problems next year, Hitzges warned, as those funds will no longer be available, and a gap will likely occur as a result.

“It develops a very severe challenge to try to fill that if you go that way,” Hitzges said. 

The district plans on exploring possible shared services agreements with BOCES programs, and officials are also hoping they will know how much state aid the district will receive by the next meeting.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.