State aid being held back on top of COVID-related financial concerns were the leading reason for Jamestown Public Schools‘ reserves being overfunded.
JPS Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker said in Fall of 2020, then Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would be withholding state aid to schools, “The federal government had initially earmarked money for schools to come to New York and other states and our share of that was about $3 million. And Governor Cuomo made good on his threats by essentially confiscating that $3 million, meaning he allowed it to come to the schools, but he withheld $3 million worth of state aid.”
Whitaker said Cuomo then told schools to prepare for a 20% cut in state aid, which would have been devastating and led to music, sports, and even kindergarten being cut. He said JPS prepared for that by holding back on purchasing, hiring, clubs, and other items.
Whitaker said the Federal government then announced in March 2021 the COVID funds for school districts, which had to be allocated by the end of that school year, “One of the models is, you just spend it all and you have to spend it all within two months, by the end of June. Another model is, you pay down debt, which is what we did. We paid down debt. Another model is that you can put it in reserves, which is what we did. We put our reserves to a point where we could fill in reserves for needs in the future for when state aid gets low, we could balance that out with the reserve funds. Another option was to just mail checks to everyone in the community.”
Whitaker said schools districts are the only public agency limited in how much they can roll over from one budget to the next, “So we slightly exceeded that. There are districts across the state that have 20%, 26%, 15%, 12% overages. They just didn’t get audited this year. So, every district that has been audited has a very similar report that says, ‘You exceeded your 4% that is required.'”
Whitaker said while it’s up to the School Board to decide whether there is a tax decrease or increase, the plan has been to maintain a zero-percent tax increase for the foreseeable future in the district.
He added that a 2015 audit by the Comptroller’s Office found that Jamestown Schools’ reserves were too low. He said that issue has been resolved.