FULTON — Fulton City School District Superintendent Brian Pulvino says the district needs to be financially flexible, and presented further details of the district’s financial standing and 2020-2021 budget at a budget hearing Tuesday evening.
Pulvino, hired as chief Red Raider in January 2016, told his Board of Education he anticipates reductions in school aid from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) during state financial review periods. Those review deadlines were originally set for the end of this April, June, December as well as March 2021. The district needs to keep its reserves and fund balances intact, he said, as it continues through the uncertain times during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If more federal stimulus legislation is not passed, the governor has indicated the schools will experience additional revenue reductions,” Pulvino said during the hearing. “It’s highly anticipated there will be further reductions, we just don’t have an idea because we don’t know if or when there will be any federal changes in the funding coming to New York state.”
Pulvino pointed out 68 percent of the school’s anticipated revenues in the 2020-21 budget — more than $50 million — comes from state aid. Even a 10 percent reduction from the state to make up for budget shortfalls at the state level could find Fulton schools in a roughly $5 million hole.
Not spending any fund balance or reserves on the proposed 2020-21 budget — instead making some cuts and increasing taxes by 2 percent — helps the district’s long-term fiscal health, Pulvino said.
“Even though our savings and our fund balance look like we have a great deal of money in there, there’s only a certain amount you can access,” Pulvino said. “That’s really our unassigned and certain reserves. Others are very specific in how they can be used. Right now there’s about $5.5 million to $6 million that’s available to work with. When you think about ... 10 percent (reduction in state aid) would be $4.9 million further beyond this budget, you can see we need to have that flexibility so we can negotiate and work through any challenges we may face fiscally due to revenue challenges at the New York state level as well as the federal level.”
Putting together the district’s proposed $73.7 million budget has been an unusual task for Pulvino and the FCSD staff with so many uncertainties over state funding.
District officials made more than $2 million in reductions over the course of several months of budget talks, and after getting guidance from board members, decided to raise taxes 2 percent and not use any fund balance or reserves.
The changes maintain curriculum and programming with no reduction in credit-bearing courses and no layoffs, Pulvino said. The budget proposal includes a reduction of 8.5 full-time equivalents through attrition, but any further reductions in state aid would likely lead to layoffs and have an impact on programs.
“There are different checkpoints for the first time, where they’re going to be checking the revenues at the state level to determine exactly what the revenue streams are looking like and the cash flow,” Pulvino said. “It’s going to be an important time for us to have that flexibility to be able to best make decisions that serve the interests of our kids and our community. It’s important that we’re leveraging ourselves to be ready for whatever comes at us to the best of our ability.”
The district has mailed more than 6,000 ballots to eligible voters, since the budget vote and board of education election will be done entirely by absentee ballot. Those must be received by the district clerk by 5 p.m. June 9.
If the budget vote fails, the district will move to the contingency budget, which is only about $240,000 less in total.
“We run lean, as you can see,” Pulvino said. “Some districts see a significant difference between their proposed and contingency (budgets), but ours is not a lot. We run lean and try to be very fiscally responsible.”
With so much unknown about what the district might face in the months ahead, Pulvino said he wants to make sure the district is fiscally ready in case some state aid is withheld.
“This is the first time in many, many, many years we didn’t know exactly going into this budget process how many dollars we have, meaning we have to posture ourselves so that we are able to address any issues that come throughout the course of the year,” Pulvino said. “This includes not knowing if we’re going to receive our state aid payments in this current school year as well. We’re really budgeting in the present, in the near future and down a couple of years.”