BRASHER FALLS — The St. Lawrence Central School District is presenting its voters with a 0 percent tax levy increase in its proposed 2020-21 budget.
“There will be no increase to the local taxpayer in this budget. The tax cap could have been 2.53 percent. With our current planning, we couldn’t do that to our community. Families are hurting right now,” Superintendent Robert Stewart said.
Twenty-one percent of the district’s revenues come from the local tax levy.
The average tax levy increase over the past five years has been 1.83 percent — 1.28 percent in 2016-17, 1.13 percent in 2017-18, 3.3 percent in 2018-19 and 1 percent in 2019-20.
He said that because of the global coronavirus pandemic, planning the budget was more challenging than in the past. The district is estimated to receive $11.3 million in foundation aid, a decrease of just over $1,000. He said it usually increases about $400,000.
“Foundation aid is the largest piece of aid that we receive from New York state. Our school is 72 percent dependent upon state aid as our main source of revenue. Since the state’s revenues are so unpredictable, it also makes our state aid uncertain at this time. Thus, the uncertainty in our whole budget,” Mr. Stewart said.
“Foundation aid is the aid that we all have to keep our eyes on all year long to see how much revenue we’ll be getting from the state and how much aid we’ll be getting from foundation aid because it could decrease in this area,” 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. Stewart said, without the change in the foundation aid formula, the district would have received more than $3 million in additional state aid.
He said they’re projecting $6.1 million in other state aid, which includes expense-based aids such as transportation and building aid.
“Expense-based aids are aids that we pay money for this year and get a certain percentage back next year,” he said.
The budget proposal also includes $163,700 in miscellaneous revenue.
“These are small revenues that come in throughout the year that usually add up to around $163,000,” he said.
In addition, the budget includes using money from the appropriated fund balance and the district’s reserves.
“This is to offset any losses we may receive in foundation aid throughout the year,” Mr. Stewart said.
The total budget that voters will be asked to approve is $24,008,913. That’s a $604,264 decrease from the current budget of $24,613,177.
He said the average budget increase over the past four years has been 2.95 percent, and the 2020-21 proposal is a 2.5 percent reduction.
“We really tightened up in areas of instruction where sometimes we keep a little surplus, especially for students with disabilities who might move into the district. That has fluctuated for us greatly. We also had some savings in health insurance, which is nice,” he said.
“We’ve been preparing for the last five years to make sure, if a rainy day came, we were prepared for a rainy day,” Mr. Stewart said.
Voters will also be asked to approve the purchase of three school buses at a cost not to exceed $377,154 and elect two members of the board of education.
This year’s candidates are Seth Belt and Sarah Ashley.