PARISH — The Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central School District voters on Tuesday approved a $32.8 million operating budget for the 2019-20 school year after the district submitted the original proposition to a re-vote.
After the budget failed to pass in the original May 21 vote, the district called a special meeting and a budget hearing to clarify line items and figures that board members said they “couldn’t trust.”
The only amendment to the budget came in the form of an increase of 1 percent to the tax levy — the total amount that a school district raises each year in taxes from all property owners — “not to exceed $60,000.” According to tax documents found on the district’s website, the tax levy represents a cost of $15.03 per thousand in the context of tax impact on a $100,000 home.
This time around, voters approved the budget with 390 “yes” votes out of 744 total votes.
District officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
During the budget hearing held last week, administrators detailed some of the budget’s major items.
The budget supports college course work offerings via Onondaga Community College and Cayuga Community College, a beefed up advanced placement program, an expansion to the Oswego County Literacy Initiative for pre-k and elementary school students and an increase in spending on special education programming.
The $32.8 million spending plan represents a rollover increase in expenses of $1,515,833. However, Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation (CiTi BOCES) Assistant Superintendent Mike Sheperd said the district drew from their debt reserve and fund balance accounts to offset costs stemming from the capital portion of the budget.
The operational budget is divided into three sections: administrative, which includes employee benefits and board of education and superintendent’s office expenses; program, which includes athletics and other extracurriculars and transportation; and capital, which includes operation and maintenance costs.
With newfound revenue from debt reserves factored in, Sheperd said the total budget only signifies an increase in expenses of $44,662, or 0.14 percent, from last year’s spending plan.
A recent audit from the New York State Comptroller’s office called some of Altmar-Parish-Williamstown’s (APW) reserve accounts “overfunded,” which has raised suspicions among district voters.
“The debt service fund and most reserve funds are not being used, and the repair, retirement, insurance and tax certiorari reserves are overfunded. The debt service fund and overfunded reserves had balances totaling more than $15.5 million as of June 30, 2018,” states the comptroller’s report.
The audit recommended the district “analyze reserve fund balances and ensure they are maintained at reasonable levels.”
In an interview last week, Superintendent Eric Knuth said low tax increases are a main reason why the district does not tap into reserve accounts.
“We've talked about all the time that we need to reduce the budget, we need to cut spending,” Knuth said. “But the other side of the budget that hasn't been addressed in 11 years is revenue and you can't do this indefinitely. You can't provide more for the kids while reducing taxes. Taxes have been reduced over 30 percent over the last 11 years.”
Earlier this month, district officials detailed a contingency budget to be adopted if the proposed spending plan were to flop with voters a second time.
Knuth explained that a contingency budget — defined as “expenses necessary to provide the minimum services legally required to operate and maintain school buildings and the educational program” — could have been a legitimate option for the district.
Items such as athletic and summer enrichment programs, robotics, archery, music programs could have faced the chopping block if a contingency budget had been adopted, according to district officials.