OSWEGO — Residents of the Oswego City School District today will vote on a proposed $86 million operating budget, along with several ballot propositions and two Board of Education members.
Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at four locations (SEE SIDEBAR) for the annual referendum on the district’s spending and revenue plan for the next 12 months.
District leaders say the 2019-2020 $86 million budget, up from $84.1 million last year, is “much trimmer” than previous iterations and will enhance instructional programs by bringing on additional staff in high-need positions.
“We’re fiscally stable because we’ve cut back every line item in the budget based on historical data,” said Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey in a Monday interview with The Palladium-Times. “We’re adding staff to support the social and emotional health of our students as well as adding elementary teachers to help offset class sizes.”
A roughly 2 percent budget increase is modest, Goewey said, at a time when health care costs “are escalating everywhere” and the district is back to using a “revenue-based” budget that doesn’t tap into reserve accounts or fund balance.
The 2 percent budget increase carries with it an approximate $14.37 increase in property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000. The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value will now stand at approximately $20.60, up from $20.46 last year. District officials caution, however, that estimated tax impact numbers for individuals might vary slightly depending on assessments.
District officials 12 months ago presented to voters a budget that contained no tax increase but used $1.7 million in fund balance.
“I’ve always felt strongly, and always put forth until last year, the need for a revenue-based budget,” Goewey said.
Recent votes have seen Goewey’s budgets pass with robust public support: a 60 percent approval last year, 68 percent in 2017 and 69 percent in 2016.
In the 2016-17 school year, Goewey’s first as superintendent, the district faced a $5 million revenue deficit — what Goewey now refers to as “the difficult time.” The resulting budget cut 50 full-time positions, including 25 teachers and a host of extracurriculars and programs.
Particularly hard-hit were the district’s elementary schools but Goewey now says they’re on their way to recovery. As teachers were reduced, class size guidelines were increased from 22 to 25 students per class in kindergarten through second grade and from 25 to 28 students in grades three through six.
“Last year and again this year, we’ve been adding teachers to get back to those initial numbers,” Goewey said.
Also on the ballot today is a proposition to purchase a total of nine vehicles, including six full-sized school buses, part of what Goewey said is a carefully devised bus replacement plan.
“We buy new buses each year and auction off the older buses we’re replacing,” Goewey said, noting that because of the buy-and-sell rotation schedule, the district can get “a good amount of money” for auctioned buses due to their good condition.
“We don’t use (buses) until the point of them falling apart,” he said. “In doing so, we keep our mechanic costs down and keep repairs down because they’re operating at a high level.”
More than 86 percent of the district’s bus purchase costs are paid by state aid, Goewey said, meaning a full-size, 66-passenger school bus costs local taxpayers roughly $16,000 rather than the $113,000 sale price.
“We set up our borrowing (for school buses) so the payments come due in the subsequent year when the aid kicks in,” Goewey said. “We’re not paying up front. It saves us money and lets us operate buses that ensure the health and safety of our students.”
Voters will also be faced with the annual proposition to approve or reject the Oswego Public Library budget. The library budget — this year $1.3 million — and school budgets are entirely distinct and separate, other than appearing on the same ballot today. Two library trustee candidates, Heather Wallace and William Schickling, will also appear on the ballot.