State aid helps some of Fredonia’s budget problems

A boost of about $350,000 in state aid may have just saved programs and staffing positions from the chopping block in the Fredonia Central School District, but only in the short-term.

Business Administrator John Forbes said Thursday that the 2014-2015 school budget is expected to stay under the state-mandated tax cap, which for the district currently stands at .87 percent.

District officials were concerned if the school did not receive at least $400,000 more in state aid from the recently passed New York state budget, then personnel and student programs would have to be slashed to maintain the budget under the tax cap, thereby avoiding a 60 percent supermajority vote from the community.

“We came in a little bit shy of that ($400,000), and there was also an adjustment to building aid, which also affects our tax cap calculation, so it’s all kind of hand-in-hand,” Forbes explained. “The (budget shortfall) number at last week’s community forum was about $837,000 and the plan going into that forum was to lay out to the community where we were and what we needed; we needed $400,000 in revenue and we thought we could save programs. So really, when it comes down to it, we’re close on that end.”

Superintendent Paul DiFonzo echoed Forbes’ sentiments and added with the additional aid, reductions in staffing and programming will be “minimal” for the time being.

“Between an increase in the foundation aid formula, and also a reduction in the gap elimination adjustment, Fredonia saw a state aid increase of $348,484 more than the total aid amount proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year,” DiFonzo said. “The additional aid is going to greatly help us in maintaining programs and staff.”

DiFonzo added various budget items will continue to be reduced before adoption, such as equipment.

“We’ve had a plan in place for a number of weeks as to what we would do depending on what the state aid number was, so we basically implemented that plan to reduce the line items we had been sitting on while waiting to see what the final state number was,” Forbes said.

Those reduced line items included leaving a teaching position and a teacher’s aide position in attrition, securing premium reductions from health insurance plans and reducing BOCES education slots deemed “extra” in case students moved to the district.

“It was about 58 line items we went back in and adjusted, in addition to the state aid,” Forbes said.

According to numbers supplied by state Sen. Cathy Young’s office, Fredonia will receive $870,893 (7.3 percent) more in total aid (including expense base aid and operating aid) for next year when compared to the current year, bringing the amount to $12,770,292.

For the GEA, the state budget will restore $266,077 more than Cuomo’s initial $152,721 proposal.

However, as far as DiFonzo and Forbes are concerned, that restoration could be more; Fredonia will still be shorthanded about $1 million due to the GEA.

“(The total restoration of about $419,000 in GEA funding next year) was promised state aid we should have been receiving, and it certainly isn’t what we had hoped for; we had hoped for a full elimination of the GEA,” DiFonzo explained.

“We certainly appreciate any additional funds we got, and every dollar helps,” Forbes said. “That (restoration) didn’t solve the problem though. They gave us a short-term fix, but they now need to work on a longer-term solution.”

DiFonzo added money alone will not solve Fredonia’s long-term problems.

“We realize the economy is difficult right now, especially in Fredonia with the recent news of Carriage House closing in February,” he said. “Even though we’re able to push through what we believe is a reasonable budget, we’re worried about maintaining programs for students in the future. We have to work with our state government to ensure our children continue to receive the programming they deserve.”

The board of education expects to adopt its budget at its next meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.

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