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Students change classes in May 2019 at Massena Central School’s Freshman Academy. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — The Massena Central School District will hold the first of three public forums on Thursday to discuss its preliminary 2020-21 budget. The presentation will be held during the Board of Education meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in room 314 at the high school.

“It is preliminary. We just received the governor’s proposal on the 22nd. Really, the budget process begins in earnest at that point until the state Legislature acts on the budget, hopefully before April 1,” Superintendent Patrick Brady said.

Under the preliminary budget, projected revenues are $54.8 million, while projected expenses are $57.1 million, leaving a gap of $2.4 million.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposal includes $826 million in total school aid, which includes a $504 million increase in foundation aid. The New York State School Boards Association has recommended a $2 billion increase in school aid.

“The New York State School Board Association and other advocacy groups call for a $2 billion increase in school aid just to pay for the commitment in programming and salaries. The governor’s proposal is much less than that. It’s well shy of the $2 billion that was requested. It’s actually lower than the formula that the governor normally uses, which is tied to state income taxes,” Mr. Brady said.

Under the governor’s budget proposal, Massena would see an increase of $486,608 in foundation aid, an increase of $408,877 in expense-based aid and a decrease of $99 in building aid, for a total state aid increase of $895,386. There would be no change in the community schools aid, which is included in the foundation aid.

“Seventy percent of Massena Central School’s budget comes from state and federal sources. Foundation aid is our main operating aid. We rely heavily on state aid for our operation. Because state aid has been favorable the last few years, it’s allowed us to have a minimal impact on the local taxpayers. Last year it was 0 percent. The year before, it was less than a percent,” Mr. Brady said.

However, a $486,608 increase in foundation aid would hardly cover the district’s expenses.

“Our increase in health insurance alone is $454,082, a 3.7 percent increase for health insurance costs,” he said.

There will also be costs for other items such as salaries, state pension, employee retirement system, Social Security and workman’s compensation, “which we have almost no control over,” Mr. Brady said.

“We do need adequate funding just to maintain our staffing and program,” he said.

He said they are also seeing an increase in the number of students who need special education services, which translates to more money.

“Next year, BOCES is no longer going to be running a program for pre-school special education. We’re required by law to take that program back in Massena because it’s our students. Some of that program will be paid for through the country. We project that won’t be enough to pay for the whole program and the variety of other needs we have for our students,” he said.

The foundation aid was established when the state’s highest court ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that New York was underfunding schools. The formula was originally scheduled to be phased in over four years. But with the onset of the Great Recession, the state froze foundation aid funding at 2008-09 levels and pushed back the phase-in schedule to 2013-14.

As state budget gaps continued to widen, the phase-in schedule was abandoned and the gap elimination adjustment was put in place to further restrict school aid.

The freeze on foundation aid funding ended in 2012-13. Since then, the state has not followed the actual foundation aid formula that was adopted in 2007.

Mr. Brady said, without the change in the foundation aid formula, Massena would have received $8.6 million more in state aid.

He said Gov. Cuomo has proposed combining expense-based aid with foundation aid. Districts currently receive expense-based aid, such as transportation, equipment and Board of Cooperative Education Services aid a year after the expense is incurred.

“This year he is looking to put them into the foundation aid category, which is concerning to us,” he said.

The change, if it took effect, would not impact the district this year.

“We largely know what the expense-based aids are going to be. They’re very predictable. When we have expenditures in the first year, we receive aid the following year,” Mr. Brady said.

But, he added, it would impact the district in future years.

“We rely very heavily on those expense-based aids. What we receive in those categories will be less predictable in future years,” he said. “Our concern, as it is for other school leaders, is that it will become less predictable if it’s lumped in. We won’t be able to know what the formula is.”

The budget figures remain preliminary as administrators and the district’s Finance Committee continue to gather information in preparation of a final budget in April.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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