By Matthew Saari
Area schools have received excellent scores for the current fiscal year from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, which deemed that Whitehall, Granville, and Hartford district schools are not fiscally stressed
In fact, two of the districts – Granville and Whitehall – earned perfect scores.
Each district received two scores, the first of which addresses factors that are within the control of the district administration, such as fund balance, expenditures versus revenue and cash ratios. Granville and Whitehall aced this one.
The second is an environmental score which focuses on factors outside the district’s control, such as changes in property value, enrollment and the percentage of the student body that receive free or reduced-cost lunch.
A score ranging from 0 – 24.9 percent indicates no fiscal stress; 25 – 44.9 percent indicates the district is susceptible to stress, 45 – 64.9 percent is a district in moderate stress and 65 – 100 percent indicates a district under significant fiscal stress.
Whitehall received a fiscal stress score of zero percent and an environmental score of five percent; Granville also achieved a fiscal stress score of zero percent, and an environmental score of 30 percent; Hartford earned a fiscal stress score of 6.7 percent and an environmental score of 11.7 percent.
Whitehall school superintendent Patrick Dee called his district’s score “terrific.”
“We’re very, very fortunate here in Whitehall that we’ve had terrific budget management in our business office for years,” said Dee, who attributed much of the district’s fiscal well-being to business manager Jodi Birch, who was a New York state auditor previously.
“She has been absolutely instrumental…she knows her stuff,” Dee said.
Hartford school superintendent Andrew Cook traced his district’s lack of stress to continuously reviewing costs.
“The biggest thing for us is as a district we scrutinize any spending,” Cook said. “Every year we look to reduce our overall costs.”
Granville business manager Cathy Somich attributed her district’s success to careful, deliberate planning – Somich plans out spending three years in advance and reviews expenses, revenue and potential “threats” or factors that could negatively impact revenue or increase expenses.
“We do our best to strategically plan ahead,” said Somich.
The biggest factor contributing to Granville’s perfect score is the district’s large fund balance, which Somich said will allow the school to undertake construction projects without having to borrow excessively.
“The main thing is we’ve kept our reserve fund balance, we’re actually higher than the state comptroller would like us,” she said.
The Granville fund balance stands at $5.4 million.
Of the three districts, Hartford received the highest percentage at 6.7 percent. However this is down almost seven percent from the year previous. The comptroller’s office predicted that Hartford will continue a positive, downward trend for 2017, with a forecasted score of 4.4 percent.
Cook attributes the improvement to several cost-saving initiatives Hartford has undertaken in recent years.
One project is the LED light project. Recently the Hartford district converted every light in the district to LED which has an anticipated cost savings of $10,000 to $12,000 annually, said Cook.
Additionally, Cook said the district always looks to refinance serial bonds and renegotiate contracts for further savings.
Of the three districts, Granville received the highest environmental score, coming in at 30 percent. The state indicates the primary impetus behind the score is a decline in property value of 1.8 percent as well as a 3.5 percent decrease in enrollment.
Throughout the state, 59 school districts received a ranking indicating they’re either fiscally stressed or susceptible to stress. Of those 59 districts only two were in Washington County: Hudson Falls received a score of 50 percent, which places it in the moderate stress level, and Greenwich earned a score of 36.7 percent, placing it in the susceptible category.



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