WARWICK — As another school budget season dawns, Warwick Valley Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach offered the public an overview of the process, recapping highlights from last year’s budget, as well as giving a preview of what district taxpayers can reasonably expect this year, at last Monday night’s regular board meeting.
Among the highlights, according to Leach’s presentation:
• According to data from the New York State Education Department (NYSED), Warwick High School has the highest Regents average in the region;
• Warwick has the highest graduation rate in the region (97 per cent);
• WVCSD has been named a “Best Community for Music Education” four years running;
• Both Park Avenue and Sanfordville Elementary Schools are National Blue Ribbon Schools;
• WVHS is the only school district in Orange County to achieve New York State Reward School status for four consecutive years;
• WV students score highest in “Aspirational Level” among the region’s 17 school districts, i.e., they take top scores in English Language Arts and math
Leach also pointed out that last year’s budget (affecting the current school year) had the highest approval rate among the public – 74 percent – in more than 16 years.
The district also has offered expanded educational opportunities for the past three years to its students, in courses such as: Green architecture; engineering in elementary; math modeling technology; advanced veterinary science; principals of biomedical science; Advanced Placement (AP) physics; robotics and engineering; energy and the environment; among others.
Revenue from non-tax sources increased 21 per cent, totaling about $2.6 million; school tax had a 0 percent increase; New York State aid increased 8.43 per cent (this includes a one-off restoration of funds withheld under the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA); the GEA was eliminated, saving the district $1.3 million.
The 2016-17 budget year also saw the lowest tax levy increase in eight years. Additionally, the number of tuition-paying students (largely from Greenwood Lake) has increased to 177, up from 126 the previous year.
Aligning with district parents’ preferences, class sizes remain consistently on the low side in grades K-4, averaging around 21 students (grades 5 and 6 average about 25 children).
ChallengesOne of the larger costs inherent in the budget is staff health insurance: out of the current year’s $88.2 million budget, health insurance costs more than $9.5 million – an increase of 4.8 per cent over the previous (2015-16) year.
“The biggest concern we have in the budget process is health care,” Leach said.
Among the ways the WVCSD is looking to meet its financial challenges: co-op purchasing (such as for fuel) with other districts, buying in bulk to achieve discounts; contract renegotiations; debt refinancing (the district saved $300,000 this school year); Energy Performance Contracts (EPC), improving energy efficiencies; staff reductions where feasible; pay freezes; renting the former Kings and Pine Island school buildings, among others.
Projected revenues, sourcesNearly 66 per cent of the school budget is funded by the tax levy; state aid makes up 28 percent. The remainder is derived from non-tax sources (such as tuition), at 3.6 per cent; appropriated fund balance (just under 2 percent); and the library bond tax (0.47 per cent).
The revenue budget for the current school year is $25,125,763; the governor’s revenue budget for 2017-2018 is $25,583,568; the projected revenue budget for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year is $25,107,913.
Leach said that the State Legislature has advised the district not to expect a big aid increase this year.
The current year’s school tax is $57,970,526; for the coming year it is projected to be $59,186,600.
Although the budget for 2016-17 increased by 2.23 percent from the previous year, there was a zero-percent increase in the tax levy.
The good news for the district is that non-tax revenue is expected to increase for 2017-18, to $3,230,267, up from $3,197,102 – an increase of more than $33,000.
Another positive for Warwick schools: according to Leach, the NY State Comptroller’s Office gave the district “a clean bill of health:” WVCSD is one of only four school districts in the region with no fiscal stress.
Recap – possible funding gap?The school district is projecting expenses of $90,162,712 for the coming school year; it projects funding from all its sources – school taxes, the library bond, state aid, non-tax revenue and its appropriated fund balance/reserves – to be $89,699,431: a projected shortfall of $463,281.
As it draws up its budget for the next school year, the district will be looking to close any gaps in funding, while staying true to its core values of maintaining quality instruction, reasonably small class size and investments in technology on the one hand, while being mindful of the taxpayers and not exceeding the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap.
Up nextWork session: Budget presentation 2, school lunch, comprehensive school plan: high school, Feb. 27, Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, 7 p.m.
Regular meeting: Budget presentation 3, March 13, Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, 7 p.m.
Work session: Budget presentation 4, community partnership, April 3, Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, 7 p.m.