Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 09 March 2012 00:00
On Thursday, March 1 the Levittown Tribune sat down with Levittown Schools Superintendent Dr. James Grossane and Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Mark Flower for an informal chat about the upcoming school budget.
Dr. Grossane said he plans to have Flower explain the tax cap at each public budget planning session. He feels there is a lot of confusion and misconception about the tax cap and what it means for residents. It’s his goal to have enough people understand the tax cap before the budget is presented, so the community can focus more on the budget rather than the “fear of not understanding a tax levy.”
“Other districts are not in as good of a financial position as we are; we aren’t good, but we’re OK,” said Grossane. “One of the things, what we’ve told the public, is what we did prepare is a “rollover” budget; they [the public] are mostly concerned with ‘what are you going to cut?’ and it’s a shift in the funding. We’re not relying on the fund balance anymore.” The final numbers of the tax levy will determine how much the district will use from the fund balance.
Dr. Grossane said that up to 60 percent of school districts upstate might be insolvent by next year because they heavily depend on the state aid, and these districts were used to asking for a 4, 5, or 6 percent tax levy and now will not have a chance at such an increase without a supermajority vote from its residents.
“I would only go out to ask for a supermajority if I truly felt that we were going to have to so severely cut our educational program, it’d really be a negative effect; it’s my hope to be able to maintain this programming,” said Grossane.
The district brought back the school newsletter, to be able to reach and explain the budget situation to residents who do not have children in the district, or who may not have access to a local newspaper, or use the district’s website.
When the Tribune asked how the district could lower the budget by its proposed 4 percent and still present a “rollover” budget, Flower said, “We looked at the budget and some surplus funds that are there in the budget and what we are trying to do is true up the budget to what our actual expenditures are, and what we are requesting from the levy,” he said. “There’s no need for putting the surplus in there when there is no need.”
Flower went on to say, “The challenge for the public is going to be, ‘The school budget is going down by 4 percent, are my taxes going down by 4 percent also?’ and the answer will be, ‘No.’” He explained that the district budget needs to relying more on the levy. Flowers said, “We’re getting away from asking the public to replenish the reserves.”
Last year, Levittown made news for the significant number of staff layoffs to be able to balance the budget. Dr. Grossane stated that this is not in the proposal again this year. He said, “The ‘rollover’ budget means, what will it cost us to provide our current year’s services? What we are proposing is to maintain our programming from this year and move them forward; this budget is what it will cost us to that.” He did say staffing changes could be made based on things like enrollment, scheduling, and elective limits.
The school still plans to purchase four new buses to replenish the needs of its fleet, and update 600 laptop computers. Dr. Grossane said the technology budget did increase in the upcoming budget, but the long-term expense has decreased because of the lowered costs to maintain the equipment. The district also makes purchases through BOCES, which comes back as a reimbursement on their revenue side of the budget.
The Tribune asked about the school’s policy on “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” especially for technology, computers and equipment. Dr. Grossane said most schools have a five-year replenishment plan, but the Levittown schools follow an eight-year plan.
The district’s SMARTBoard Project will be the newest, and perhaps the most significant increase in the budget for purchases next year. About 30 percent of Levittown schools’ classrooms have SMARTBoards already; Dr. Grossane said that by September, all of the classrooms would have one. The schools will be getting away from the overhead projectors and white boards.
Dr. Grossane feels the staff is very comfortable with this zero-based rollover budget, and that the staff knows the administration has heard their needs for the most part. “The two of us, coming in new, when we offered the zero-base, we said, ‘OK, tell us, tell us what you need’ and we said after we compile the budgets if we feel we need to constrict at all we’ll come back. Everyone is relatively comfortable here,” he said.
Dr. Grossane said he thinks the public would agree, “I think they are looking for, honestly, they just want us to tell them this is what it is, and this is what we are getting.” He said from the feedback he has received so far, most residents have said they understand what it will cost and what will be included.
Dr. Grossane said he plans to maintain programming as long as possible, even hopeful that the district can eventually create a capital fund for the district, rather than creating a line item in the budget for it.
The budget planning sessions have been broken down into a four-part presentation. On Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the second presentation, a line item review of instructional costs was covered. On Wednesday, March 7, a continued review of instructional costs was covered in addition to sharing the administrative line items of the budget.
Grossane and Flower agreed that they are disappointed with the turnout at the meetings, but are told it’s the normal turnout. This is in response to the average audience size of about 40 people at each of the planning sessions, including the first session held on Feb. 15.
There are two budget presentations remaining. On Wednesday, March 21 the superintendents will give a line item review of capital, including the district’s building and grounds, bus purchases, and debt service. A budget recap will be given, and the revenue portion of the budget will be discussed, including state aid and local revenue sources.
The final budget presentation will be held on Wednesday, March 28 including a hearing about the tax levy, and a budget overview. The board of education will adopt the 2012/13 budget after this meeting.
Once the budget is formally adopted, the district will be giving formal presentation to community groups in addition to its public meetings at the LMEC.
A second budget hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 8 before the public votes on it on Tuesday, May 15.
Meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Levittown Memorial Education Center at 150 Abbey Lane. The next regular Levittown School District Board of Education meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 14 at the Levittown Memorial Education Center at 150 Abbey Lane. This meeting will be devoted to reports from the superintendent of schools and board members, regular agenda items of old and new business and schedules.