District Leaders Outline Preliminary 2021-22 Budget: Future-Focused in Extraordinary Times

Key Points

  • The district is planning a budget with the capacity for all K-12 students to learn in person every day next year, with the ability to shift to hybrid or remote learning if needed.
  • The district is facing a $2 million cut in state aid next year, which is covered by one-time federal aid.
  • The level of overall revenue is not enough to cover expected costs and some degree of staffing adjustments is likely to be necessary.
  • The district’s tax levy cap for next year of 1.17% is significantly lower than it has been the last four years. The Board of Education discussed the idea of exceeding this low cap in order to minimize staffing reductions and to preserve student programs.

What’s Next?

The administrative team will provide more detailed information to the Board about tax levy scenarios and how they impact the ability to retain staff and protect student programs. The budget development process will continue at the Board’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 23, at 6 p.m.

Additional Information

At the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, March 9, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. and Director of Business & Finance Carrie Nyc-Chevrier outlined a preliminary budget proposal for the 2021-22 school year. Although the pandemic continues to be a fluid situation, the district is planning for a school year in which all students K-12 can learn every day in person, but will also have the ability to shift to remote/hybrid learning if circumstances require.

Describing how the district has been “Future-Focused in Extraordinary Times,” Dr. Tangorra talked about how the district has accelerated its educational technology plans, set the stage for programmatic improvements through the approved capital project and will continue to fund all extracurricular and athletic programs and student mental health and social/emotional support.

The budget development process will continue through March and into April. It will also be shaped by the final state budget, which is due on April 1.

State Aid & Federal Aid

At this stage, the district is facing a $2 million year-to-year state aid cut. This will be offset for next year by federal stimulus aid. However, education advocates across the state have warned of the “fiscal cliff” that districts may face in future years when federal aid goes away if state aid is not there to fill the gap.

Fund Balance

The district factored nearly $4.5 million in the use of reserves and fund balance into the current year’s budget. Fund balance can be thought of as a savings account and, in the case of school districts, it can be used to help with unanticipated expenses or to help manage the tax levy through a planned, long-term approach. Administrators and board members who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday agreed that the level of fund balance used in the current year is not sustainable for the district. At this stage, $2 million in fund balance is planned for next year, which Nyc-Chevrier said would put the district in a stronger financial position for the future.

Tax Levy

The district’s tax levy cap for next year is 1.17%, which is significantly lower than the average of the last four years of 2.45%. A tax levy increase at the cap for next year raises $560,000 less than last year’s tax levy growth, and the low cap contributes to the difference between available revenue and the projected costs for next year.

Total Expenses

Expenses in the preliminary budget total $92.7 million, which represents a 2.13% increase from the current budget. “With an increase at that modest level, it is important to highlight that our challenge is not expenditures but a lack of revenue, brought about by the proposed state aid cut and the extremely restrictive tax levy cap for next year,” Dr. Tangorra said.

Staffing Adjustments

The preliminary budget outlined on Tuesday includes limited additions to meet areas of demonstrated need, including increasing to a full-time technology director, an athletic assistant and clerical assistant. However, given the difference between projected revenue and expenses, the preliminary spending plan did contain some staffing adjustments, including the potential reduction of approximately 13 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The reductions factored into the budget have not been detailed at this early point in the process. They are generally based on student enrollment and course requests, and would still allow the district to stay within elementary class size guidelines and have no/limited impact on the 6-12 instructional program.

However, even with the reduction of those positions, revenue remains about $2 million below projected expenses. At Tuesday’s meeting, Board members said they want to minimize any reductions and the impact on employees and student programs. To preserve people and programs, they discussed the possibility of a tax levy increase that exceeds the 1.17% cap.

Based on this discussion, at the next meeting on March 23, Dr. Tangorra said he will outline different tax levy scenarios and how they affect staffing and programs.

“Our faculty and staff members are the people who support our students every day and prepare them for the future,” Dr. Tangorra said. “We know the importance of investing in our schools and no Niskayuna administrator or Board member likes the idea of reducing any positions. Yet, the annual budget has to be part of a long-term plan that the district can sustain. It is early in the process, but we must recognize that it may require a combination of difficult decisions related to both staffing and the tax levy. At the end of it, I am confident that we will have a budget that continues an outstanding program and meets the needs of Niskayuna students next year.”