School officials expect grim budget outlook

E ven as preliminary discussion on the budget for 2011-2012 began, Granville School District officials warned the school board to brace for what could be an even bumpier ride over the next few school years if proposed aid cuts stand.

“I want to try to paint you a picture of what the governor did to Granville Feb. 1,” Superintendent Mark Bessen said during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, referring to the proposed budget by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Bessen said business manager Cathy Somich put together a plan designed to pilot Granville through the roughest seas of the state’s fiscal crisis, but that plan was dealt a serious blow by potential additional cuts named in the Cuomo proposal.

“We were fine under the old plan, but now that’s gone,” Bessen said after presenting the board with a slideshow detailing how the governor’s executive budget could slash state aid to the district.

The proposal removes an additional $904,784 in state aid on top of the nearly $700,000 removed by then-Gov. David Paterson during his final state budget totaling more than $1.5 million in lost revenue over two years.

Also missing from Granville coffers will be Foundation aid, additional aid meant to help bridge the gap between the neediest and most well off school districts in the state.

This aid money was expected to begin to increase in 2014 and was anticipated in Somich’s budget scenario. Cuomo has proposed delaying any increases in that aid until at least 2016, despite that aid being tied to a court decision. “He’s either ignoring (the decision) or he doesn’t know about it,” Bessen said later.

To recoup the state aid losses entirely with tax money, Bessen said it would be the equivalent of a 27 percent tax increase, something he was emphatic is not an option. “That will not happen; the residents of this district cannot afford an increase like that. No one would stand for it,” Bessen said.

Instead, this budget and likely the next few will contain heavy cuts as well as tax increases.

“Reasonable tax increases will be necessary over the next three years,” Bessen said. Referring to the district’s unencumbered fund balance as a “rainy day fund,” Bessen said it was no longer raining in Granville – “It’s a hurricane.” The district plans to lean heavily on a fund balance, which is currently more than $4 million.

The only possible bright light in all of this is the numbers provided in the executive budget might not be the same as those the school eventually receives, Bessen said, adding those numbers represent a worst case scenario for Granville and any other district receiving large amounts of state aid to make the budget.

Experts project the proposed budget figures could cause 100 schools in the state to collapse financially in the next year, Bessen said.

Operations and Maintenance and Transportation sections of the budget presented by Brad Wood and Bob Jones, respectively, came before the board following the sobering presentation. Each presented a budget growing by 8 percent in the case of transportation and 7 percent in the case of operations and maintenance strictly due to expected increases in the cost of petroleum products such as heating oil and diesel fuel.

In other news, the board agreed to set the tuition rate for Vermont students. After a 10 percent increase last year, the board settled on an increase of just $25 from $7,975 to $8,000 over concern an increase close to the tuition rate being charged at Poultney (Vt.) High School could cause Vermonters to shy away from Granville.

Board member John McDermott voted against the move after advocating for a larger increase because residents would likely be seeing an increase in their taxes.

The player, parent, coach meeting for spring sports has been scheduled for March 3 at 7 p.m. at the high school.

On March 7, prior to the regular meeting of the board, will be the winter sports awards recognizing athletes from girls basketball to wrestling.

Saturday will once again be Granville Night at the Glens Falls Civic Center as the Adirondack Phantoms welcome a chorus from Granville Elementary to sing the national anthem. Reduced tickets are available at the Granville Elementary main office.

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