By Alex Brooks
Berlin School District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Young gave a presentation to the School Board at its Round Table meeting on Thursday, February 1 about next year’s School District Budget. He presented what he calls the “rollover” budget, which is an estimate of what it will cost to run next year the same program as this year’s, continuing all academic programs, electives, extracurriculars and sports programs with nothing cut and nothing added.
The rollover budget is $20,584,571, an increase of $382,729 over this year’s budget, which is a budget to budget increase of 1.89%.
The lion’s share of that increase comes from employee salaries and benefits, which will increase by $290,430, which is 1.85%. These are raises that are built into the District’s contracts with its employees.
The State aid picture, based on the Governor’s proposal, is quite good. The District projects an increase in foundation aid of 3.76%, or $277,174, and overall State Aid will increase by $454,870. But this is offset by a one-time problem with miscellaneous revenue. The health care consortium that the District uses for its health insurance sometimes refunds previous year payments if it finds at the end of the year that it has collected more than it needs. Last year the District received a refund of $274,000, and this year is anticipating a refund of about $75,000, so revenues are down $199,000 from that alone. Other miscellaneous revenues are also down, so the total reduction in expected Miscellaneous revenue is $268,480. In addition, the District transferred about $70,000 from the Workers Comp reserve to the General Fund last year, which it is not doing this year, so that adds to the reduced revenue.
So when these revenue reductions of about $339,000 offset the State aid increase of about $455,000, the District has a net gain in revenue of about $116,000. The tax cap limit for raising the tax levy in the Berlin District this year is 1.73%, which raises about $159,000. Taken together, these two numbers produce new revenue of about $275,000, which is about $108,000 short of the projected increase in expenditures contemplated by the rollover budget.
Dr. Young said the advice he is hearing from superintendents and business officials he has spoken to, is to make a practice of increasing the tax levy by the amount that the tax cap allows, and he recommended to the Board that they do that, but of course that decision has not been made yet.
Dr. Young said, “We’re in pretty good shape at this point.” He said in most previous years there have been much bigger shortfalls when he put together the rollover budget early in the budget season. He expects the State aid picture to improve a bit when the Governor negotiates a final State Budget with legislators at the end of March. With luck these could pay for the shortfall and maybe some additions to the academic programs.
Dr. Young outlined some of the additions to academic programs that he has in mind. The biggest is a full-time school psychologist for Berlin Elementary School, the cost of which he estimated at $60,000 plus benefits. He said there will be two new half-year elective courses, Materials Processing and Intro to Computer Science. These will replace existing courses, so there will be no new salary cost, but there will be some expense for teaching materials for these courses. He also said there will be some new clubs for students to enrich the after-school offerings, but the only cost for these is a small stipend for the faculty member who supervises and helps the students with their club.
Dr. Young also mentioned that there will be a bus purchase proposition to purchase one or two new buses as part of the District’s ongoing bus replacement program, but this is not part of the budget presented that night, because it will be voted on separately. Dr. Young said, “Our fleet is getting old,” and emphasized the importance of annual bus purchases to keep it in good shape. He said the average bus in the District is putting on 26,000 miles a year, and those going out of District are putting on 40,000 miles a year. The small rural, often steep, roads they traverse and the snow, ice and salt they slog through in the winter take a toll on the buses. Dr. Young noted that the District had to take a bus off the road just last week.
School Board member Jim Willis said he had seen propane buses owned and operated by a neighboring District which were endorsed by the drivers and the transportation supervisor there, and suggested that Berlin might want to look into that for future bus purchases. Board Chairman Frank Zwack thought this was a good idea and heartily endorsed the idea of learning more about the economics of running propane buses.
The School Board then spent some time going over slides that Dr. Young had put together for presentations to the public about the proposed Capital Project, and made comments about changes or improvements to the presentation. Public presentations about the Capital Project began this week in Petersburgh and at the High School. There will be public presentations on Thursday February 15 at 7 pm at the Grafton VFW Hall and Wednesday, February 28 at 7 pm at the Stephentown Fire Hall, and a Public Hearing on the Capital Project will be held on Thursday, March 1 at 7 pm at the High School in Cherry Plain. The vote on the Capital Project will take place from noon to 9 pm on Tuesday March 6 at the Berlin Elementary School.