November 30, 2021

Cortland school budget doesn’t tap savings

Cortland County Seal

If it cannot find a way to reduce costs or find other revenue, the Cortland Enlarged City School District would need to raise property taxes more than $300,000 to fund a proposed $50.69 million spending plan for 2020-21, district documents show.

The budget increases spending for the first time since 201516 — it has been $49.58 million each year — and retiring faculty members will not be replaced unless necessary.

Superintendent Michael J. Hoose said this week the proposed budget doesn’t yet have a tax levy, which depends on state aid, but the $313,665 gap between spending and other revenue sources would mean a 1.8% increase in the property tax levy, which is now $17.56 million, and a similar increase in the property tax rate, which is now $17.08 per $1,000 assessed property value.

The school has been using reserves to fill the gap since the 2015-16 school year, according to the district’s website, ranging from $5 million in 2015-16 down to $764,000 last year. No reserve funds are included in the proposed budget, in part because this is the first spending plan since the district closed Parker and Virgil elementary schools to save about $1.6 million a year.

Still, said Business Administrator Kimberly Vile, “Our expenses are rising faster than our revenue.”

Increases in health care costs and school contracts were cited by the district’s website as part of the reason for the gap.

Besides letting positions go vacant, the district has cut spending for supplies such as pen and pencils, Hoose said.

“We’re getting better but between the cost rising against the revenues, it’s a constant struggle,” he said.

Hoose said closing the two schools did help the budget keep costs down, but didn’t have specific figures. In addition to the projected $1.6 million in operational savings, the closures avoided the need for $5.6 million in renovations over the next several years.

The district expects a 0.54% increase in state aid, Hoose said, while other districts may get a 3% or 4% increase, something Hoose has contacted Assembly Member Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) and state Sen. James L. Seward (R-Milford) about.

“Sen. Senator is working out any inequities to make sure Cortland receives its fair share of funding,” said Jeff Bishop, Seward’s communications director.

Lifton said an amendment to the governor’s proposed budget will be introduced Monday by both houses in the state Legislature.

“People will see a considerably stronger proposal,” Lifton said, although she wouldn’t provide specific details.

The district expects to complete the budget proposal by March 24 and have the Board of Education vote on adopting the budget April 14, according to the district’s website.

A public hearing will be May 12, followed by a public vote on May 19.

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