Cato-Meridian Central School District
2851 Route 370
Cato, NY 13033
|2013 - 2014|
2013-2014 Budget Development Message
At this point in the school year, districts all across the state are beginning the annual process of developing next year’s budget. What local school boards are hearing from superintendents and school business officials is that since 2009 the trending pattern in state education aid continues to decline. The impact of this trend has caused districts to make tough decisions about how to allocate dwindling resources. Districts like Cato-Meridian which have a small tax base and are heavily reliant on state aid to operate essential programs are pondering their options in these fiscally challenging times.
It might be useful to share with you some of the conversations I have started with our school board. The good news is that even though the district’s budgets for the last three years have been in decline as a result of lower state aid, student opportunities, programs, and relatively low class sizes have all been preserved. While needing to lower our overall operating costs, our first priority from a budgetary perspective is to protect the value of the educational opportunities available to all of our students.
For the last three years, the district has been able to achieve this goal by restructuring our departments. In 2010 and 2011, a retirement incentive program was used to reduce the size of the district’s work force. In 2012, four layoffs were needed to help the district meet its budget goal. Two positions were in the instructional area and two more were non-instructional. In total, 27.5 positions have been abolished since 2009. Sixteen of these positions were in the teaching ranks. While almost every school district has found it necessary to shed jobs in recent years, the pressure on schools to educate students better, to improve test results, and increase graduation rates has intensified.
Our teachers, administrators, and staff are working harder than ever to meet the expectations of state and federal reform initiatives, but the reality is that these educational challenges must be addressed with fewer resources, both human and fiscal, than at any other time. Educators across the state accept this as the new normal. To be truthful, the political debate in Albany centers more around the need for equitable distribution of scarce funding, rather than around the need for more funding. Everyone knows that while more funding for education may be needed, the money simply isn’t available.
So what is the picture for Cato-Meridian going forward? When Governor Cuomo came into office, he strongly suggested to schools that they use their reserves to buy themselves time. He felt that the money was there for use in such times as these. Given our district’s low tax base and reliance on state aid, we adopted a more fiscally conservative approach to funding our educational programs and resisted the urge to rely on our reserves to fund our programs. The fact is that schools who took the Governor’s advice then are today the first in a growing number of districts across the state staring at fiscal insolvency as early as the end of this year. The State Education Department estimates that between forty and sixty school districts across the state are scheduled to run out of money at the end of the 2013-14 school year. It is reported that another eighty schools are close behind them.
Cato-Meridian is not among those districts listed, but for the first time this year, we are operating with a lower fund balance that before. The Governor’s executive budget is still a month away, so we simply don’t know what our aid package will be for next year, but given projected state revenues coming in much lower than estimated, and the economic impact of Sandy, we will assume for now that aid for education will be flat-lined for next year. If that assumption proves reliable, Cato-Meridian, along with most other districts, will be faced with an ever growing budget gap that will need to be closed in some way.
For now, it is important to realize that the longer it takes for the state to recover economically, the more fragile the district’s fiscal future will become. However, I am happy to report that Cato-Meridian is in as good a financial shape as any school our size is who depends so heavily on state funding. As we go about the task of preparing next year’s budget, we will continue to adopt a fiscally conservative approach to making sure that the district’s goal of maintaining our educational offerings is met, one that not only staves off a fiscal crisis down the road, but also insures that our children receive the best education possible.
As the 2013-2014 budget process moves along, you can keep up with its development on the school web site, or attend our regularly scheduled Board of Education meetings in the upcoming months. Please contact me at any time if you have questions about the budget process.