OCSD still faces grim budgetary outlook

GOEWEY

OSWEGO — Officials from the Oswego City School District will present the latest version of its proposed 2016-2017 budget tonight as the district continues to wrestle with reconciling its own educational standards with stark fiscal realities.

Superintendent Dean Goewey will address the board of education, parents and staff with the newest proposed budget numbers in a meeting to be held at the High School Cafeteria at 5 p.m. tonight, with the district currently battling a difficult financial situation.

Since taking over as superintendent last year, Goewey has repeatedly said the district would be facing a highly challenging budget season, and previous updates at board of education meetings have borne out that prediction, with board members citing sleepless nights and soul-searching moments while trying to align revenue and expenditures.

"We're taking a very forward-thinking approach and philosophy to crafting an honest budget based on revenue only, and although these reductions are painful, none of them came easy," said Goewey.

The total revenue projections for the 2016-2017 season is currently $78.8 million, a decrease from last year's narrowly-passed budget of $82.8 million. Much of that lost revenue came in the form of the decreasing PILOT agreement with Exelon and its Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station.

In the last budget update from Goewey on March 15, the district still faced a nearly $1 million deficit despite proposed reduction of up to 40 full-time teachers and staff positions — which will include not filling positions vacated through retirements — and a $250,000 cut from the athletic department.

Goewey said those reductions would be explained "in complete specifics" on Tuesday.

A tax levy increase of "slightly more than 2 percent" will be proposed, according to Goewey. Originally slated for a flat 2-percent increase, that would represent approximately $563,000, or an increase of $42.38 per $100,000 in assessed-home value.

Last year, voters approved a 9 percent levy increase, but Goewey said the district would not attempt to impose such a dramatic hike again.

"We're not going to continue to leverage our budgets on the backs of our taxpayers," Goewey said.

Further exacerbating issues was an unsuccessful attempt to find $2 million in health savings which could have alleviated some of the staffing cuts, but Goewey has said they continue to look for cost-saving options in health insurance and benefits.

Last year, the district allocated more than $3 million from reserves and fund balances to make up part of the overall budget deficit, but according to Goewey and school officials, tapping into those revenue sources is no longer an option.

The district has approximately $5 million in reserves, but the vast majority is inaccessible due to mandated debt services and capital reserve restrictions.

"Last year we dipped into reserve funds in the millions and also reached out to taxpayers for an almost 10 percent increase, and that's not an authentic, responsible budget," said Goewey. "We can only spend what we have." One budget function where Oswego will see some much-needed relief is in state education aid, announced last week in a joint budget deal between the New York State Senate and Assembly.

Oswego stands to see its overall state aid allocation increase 12.4 percent to $23.8 million for the year. Goewey has said that at least some, if not all, of that funding would go to replenishing the district's reserve funds.

Goewey has said the district will face another budget deficit of approximately $4 million next year.

Tonight's meeting will represent the latest step in a long budgetary process which will culminate in the May 19 up-or-down vote on the budget and the selection of two board of education members.

The presentation is open to the public and attendees can sign up before the meeting to address the board.

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