That from Jamestown school superintendent Tim Mains, who was a guest on WRFA’s Community Matters public affairs program on Thursday, Feb. 19.
Mains talked about several challenges facing the district as it prepares for the 2015-16 school year budget, including the fact that it is starting the process facing close to a $4 million budget gap.
“We proposed and passed a budget last year that relied on $2.1 million in reserve funds to make that budget work, so we closed the gap with the final little amount of reserves that we had. We have drained them now completely,” Mains said. “That means, all things being equal, we would immediately start preparing our budget for next year with a $2.1 million gap. If you take the amount of money we will need to pay our employees, just to comply with their contracts, that adds another $1.7 million dollars, so we’re almost $4 million in the hole before we even get out of the gate.”
Jamestown’s current 2014-15 school year budget was $75.8 million and Mains said that while the district is looking for ways to cut costs in this year’s budget to help prepare for next year, it’s unlikely a significant amount of savings can be found without making cuts to staffing, and that’s something district officials have already ruled out. But Mains said the district has been exploring other options, although currently none appear to be able to bring in the amount of money needed to close the multimillion dollar gap.
Combine that with the challenge of not even knowing how much state aid the district will receive for next year due to a political power play by Governor Cuomo, who won’t release state aid runs until the legislature approves his education reform proposal, this current budget process may be the most difficult one the district has faced in recent memory.
Still, the Superintendent, who’s now in his second hear at the helm, hopeful that combined they can at least cut into the gap before he and the school board begin the process of looking at budget cuts and a possible tax increase.
Mains also said that there are things being done that could have a positive impact on the long-term financial outlook for the district, including the effort to bring more funding in from Albany.
“We’re engaged in the small city’s lawsuit, so we’re suing the State of New York to try and leverage and obtain what we believe is a fair and equitable amount of state aid that should be flowing to Jamestown,” Mains Said. “I’m also engaging in a lot of political lobbying to try and make sure that (State Senator) Cathy Young and (Assemblyman) Andy Goodell understand that unless we have a substantial increase in the state aid provided to Jamestown, we’ll be looking at severe cuts to both programs and personnel.”
Mains also said that the district will consider establishing an Education Foundation, which would serve a fundraising operation for non-essential school services – so those costs can be removed from the annual budget. He said more details on the foundation and how it would function will be revealed during next week’s school board meeting next Tuesday night.
As for the school’s finances, the state comptroller’s office had designated Jamestown as a district under moderate fiscal stress. Mains said that was based on information from last year. If the comptroller was to look at the district finances for this year, chances are Jamestown would be designated as a district under severe fiscal stress.
The Jamestown School board will continue to explore the financial challenges facing the district during next week’s meeting. It has until April 25 to finalize and approve a spending plan for next school year.