Committee looks at school finances and building configurations
The Community Advisory Committee got a clearer look
at each school district's finances and tackled the tough question of
how to use buildings in a merged district at their seventh meeting on
Thursday, June 9 at Herkimer BOCES (view
the agenda (PDF)).
A snapshot of fiscal health
Patrick Powers of D'Arcangelo & Co, certified
public accountants and consultants, presented a clear financial
picture of each district—both current and future. D'Arcangelo performs
internal and external audits for 50 school districts including three
of the four districts involved in the merger study.
Mr. Powers' presentation was based on the latest
financial data—the final 2010 audit. He explained that the fund
balances may change, but that the expenditures are representative. (see
the Financial Health Characteristics (PDF)).
He began by explaining that at the time of the 2011
state budget negotiations, the state wanted districts to use their
fund balances to make up for cuts in state aid.
"This is just a short term solution," he warned.
"It is easy to spend fund balance, but the hard part is building that
back up for future needs."
Building reserves will be especially difficult to
reestablish considering the anticipation of frozen or reduced state
aid due to the state's poor fiscal health, the loss of federal
stimulus funds, and the impending tax cap.
Mr. Powers sees a merger as critical to school
"Improved efficiencies and increased state aid
through a merger equals improved finances," he said.
Addressing the often asked question of whether
incentive aid is guaranteed, he said expected it continue based on
past practice. He warned, however, that any Gap Elimination Adjustment
(state reductions to school aid to close New York's budget deficit)
could reduce incentive aid proportionally.
He then compared the districts to each other. Among
Although the schools vary in size and in total
budget, the percentage each school spends on major categories
(instruction, employee benefits, general support, debt service,
and transportation) are similar.
Revenues vary greatly. Ilion receives almost 75
percent of its revenue from state aid versus Frankfort-Schuyler
low of 57 percent. As a result, Frankfort-Schuyler raises almost
38 percent of its revenue in taxes versus 19 percent for Ilion.
Fund balances as a percentage of expenditures
ranges from a high of 13.3 percent to a low of 3.97 percent.
(Those figures fell dramatically with the 2011-12 budget season.)
In general, the districts are fiscally similar
and a merger would positively impact the districts.
In previous meetings, the CAC looked at how
buildings might be used in a merged district. After an informal vote,
the committee narrowed the possible choices down to four options. The
district leadership teams, made up of superintendents and building administrators,
reviewed the options and selected one as their clear preference.
Read the leadership team's report.
The leadership team selected one of the four
options, but modified it. The leadership team configuration would
include one elementary school in each community, one grades 5-6
building, one grades 7-8 building, and one grades 9-12 high school.
CAC members were surprised the team had not
selected on of the four options as presented and asked the
superintendents present several questions related to the choice.
Why did you reject other options that the CAC
ranked as better?
The new option would enable the schools to better
link curriculum to student age and development. The needs, interests,
and maturity of fifth and sixth graders is very different from those
of seventh and eighth graders. This configuration would allow the
schools to provide age-appropriate classes for each group. The
leadership team also felt strongly that all students in a given grade
(after PreK-4) should be in the same building to minimize any
The building capacities and the projected
student enrollment are very close with this option. What happen if
more students show up?
The capacity figures are intentionally very
conservative. The buildings can accomodate more students if necessary.
How will you address the parents of fifth and
sixth graders who do not want to put their kids on a bus?
That concern is understandable; it is a big step to
go from a local school to another school outside your community. But
the goal is to provide the best opportunities for students and to do
that will require changes. Children demonstrate a remarkable ability
to adapt—even better than adults. The goal would be to keep bus rides
as short as possible (our longest runs would be shorter than most in
more rural school districts) and to make the transition for parents
and students as smooth as possible. And regardless of the the building
configuration, there will be change and change always raises concern.
Will this mean different bus routes for each
Transportation will be part of a future merger
study meeting. Prior to the meeting, the study team will meet with the
transportation coordinators for each district and look at bus routes.
Will different schools mean different start
times? What will this mean for parents who rely on children to help
watch over younger siblings?
Details such as start times will have to be worked
out by the new school board. Until the board establishes the specifics
of class schedules and bus routes, it will be difficult to know how
this will impact students and their families.
Would it be possible to provide a before and
after school program to help families who may struggle balancing work
schedules with a new school schedule?
Again, that would be up to the new board of
education. In the past, such programs have been only marginally
successful. Enrollment began high, but fell quickly as parents found
other ways to arrange their schedules.
Will this end the revenue some schools receive
from renting extra space to BOCES?
No, the new configuration actually expands the
Mohawk's Jarvis Junior-Senior High School is
not included as a school building—why not?
Jarvis is small to be an instructional building in
the new district, but its central location is ideal to house the
district office. It is also an excellent site for a BOCES alternative
In what state are our buildings?
All of the school buildings have undergone repairs
and renovations over the last decade. They are all in good condition,
but will require routine maintenance in the future.
View the building conditions report (PDF).