MASSENA — The numbers are preliminary, but the Massena Central School District’s Finance Committee continues to put together a 2021-22 budget with the information they have, and that was shared with the Board of Education and public Thursday night.
“It’s still very much in the preliminary stage. This is our first opportunity to present our work tonight to the board and to the public about where we are with the budget,” Superintendent Patrick Brady said.
He said this was “one of the more complex years schools have had in order to put a budget together” because of several uncertainties, including transportation aid that had been withheld and federal stimulus money coming to the state that may be exhausted in one year.
“We could be looking at the cliff we saw when we went through the Great Recession. There are a lot of issues in preparing this budget,” Mr. Brady said.
He said they and other districts took a hit when they learned in September that they would not be reimbursed for transportation aid between March and June because drivers weren’t carrying students during the pandemic, but rather meals and materials to families.
“The idea was to keep employees working if you can, and that’s what we did with our bus drivers... with the full expectation we would get aid next year. Now we stand to lose over a half a million dollars in aid because bus drivers weren’t driving students,” he said.
They are also looking at the possibility of not getting aid for those who provided one-on-one aid services for some students.
“Because those students were not in school from March to June, and we kept them employed doing other things, we are looking at the possibility of not getting aid on that either, and that’s $400,000 projected. That’s just last year. We still don’t know if there’s going to be issues with transportation aid or these one-to-one aids this year,” Mr. Brady said.
He said foundation aid, their main operating aid, is frozen for the second consecutive year under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposal.
Foundation aid was enacted in 2007 to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system. Reforms were to be fully phased-in by 2010-11, increasing aid to all districts by a total of $5.5 billion.
But the foundation aid formula was largely frozen during the Great Recession and funding is now $3.84 billion below the level promised for 2010-11, without taking into account the general aid reduction imposed by the Gap Elimination Adjustment.
Mr. Brady said the district is receiving $9.18 million less in the 2021-22 budget because of the freeze in the foundation aid formula.
Under the governor’s proposal, Massena would receive $37,405,005 in state aid, an increase of $2,276,758. That includes $23,529,510 in foundation aid; $7,775,594 in expense-based aids, an increase of $125,755; and $4,503,244 in building aid, an increase of $761,352.
“This is the governor’s proposal. Now the Legislature is working to come out with their own ideas,” Mr. Brady said. “If everything goes well, that looks pretty good for next year. But there are some factors there.”
For salaries and benefits, the district is looking at a $200,908 increase in salaries, a $121,141 increase in Employee Retirement System contributions, a $119,477 increase in Teacher Retirement System contributions, a $7,800 increase in workers compensation, a $3,370 increase in Social Security, and a $21,902 decrease in health insurance, for a total budget increase of $249,886.
Under their preliminary figures, the district is projecting $56,504,381 in revenues and $57,963,051, a gap of $1,458,670.
“That’s what we would use the fund balance for,” Mr. Brady said.
Another public forum will be held on March 18 for the presentation of an updated budget.
The board must adopt it on April 19, the budget hearing will be May 6, and the budget vote will be May 18.