School budget season begins

At the first of five budget presentations, Warwick Valley School officials outline the challenges ahead


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By Abby Wolf

— As it gears up for the coming budget season, the Warwick Valley School Board used its work session time slot on Monday night, Jan. 28, to offer the first in a series of five budget presentations that will be held throughout the winter and beginning of the spring.

Dr. David Leach, Superintendent of Schools, hopes to have a preliminary budget ready by the end of January, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released his proposed budget. More finalized numbers that reflect education aid (including building aid) are not expected to come from Albany until the end of March, however, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Tim Holmes.

Expectations from AlbanyAccording to a story in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Cuomo is looking to increase education spending by $1 billion, bringing the state’s investment on education up to $27.7 billion.

The lion’s share of aid is likely to go to districts that are in the greatest need, based on a set of formulas used by the New York State Legislature. As Warwick has the highest combined wealth index ratio in the region (in other words, it is considered a relatively affluent district), any increase in state aid is likely to be minimal.

Per-pupil spending on average in Orange County is $28,033, and around $23,900 in Warwick. The total comprises classroom instruction, transportation, debt service and district administration, divided by the number of students.

“We rarely assume we’ll get the money Albany promises us, and we rarely get the aid they promise,” Leach said.

The school district currently operates under a $92.8 million spending plan.

The challenge for the Warwick Valley School District – as always – is keeping the balance between curriculum and moderate class size on the one hand, versus meeting its state and federal mandates (largely unfunded), plus being mindful of the taxpayers on the other.

The administration is working on finalizing a rollover budget that maintains current programs, while proposing a tax levy amount “below the district’s allowable limit,” according to a previous statement from the superintendent.

Leach said that the average annual tax levy increase for the past five years has been 1.58 percent – within the state-mandated cap: that includes the budget year of 2016-17, when there was no levy increase over the previous year, and the current year’s budget, which had a 2.95 percent levy increase over last year.

Return on investmentOfficials also offered highlights of what they described as taxpayers’ return on investment:

• 10-acre solar project with 7,888 panels, generating 2.4 MW of electricity

• 94.3 percent five-year graduation rate

• Four years New York State Reward School

• Park Avenue Elementary and Warwick Valley High School named U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

• “Best Community for Music Education” for sixth consecutive year

• Host of Special Olympics, four consecutive years

• 13 AP courses, 17 college-level courses, 19 Honors courses

• 196 tuition-paying students

• 25K+ volunteer hours performed by each graduating class

• Three Odyssey of the Mind World Championships

• 20 New York State Scholar-Athlete teams

• Average class size – 21 students

• Four full-time Warwick Police officers on staff (one in each school)

• Full-scale astronomical observatory at Sanfordville Elementary

ChallengesHealth care costs continue to be a concern, but the health care consortium that WVSD joined has helped the district rein in costs. In addition, the administration has increased staff co-pays/contributions to their health insurance, as well as reduced certain benefits to pick up the slack.

Still, Leach said that Warwick Valley is likely looking at an estimated $600,000 structural budget deficit at the moment. He added that the deficit is pretty much on par with other districts around New York State, where the range is typically between $500,000 and $1 million.

Administration will know by Feb. 1 who’s retiring, whether certain positions will be eliminated through attrition, or whether the district can realize some savings by replacing those retirees with staff who are earlier on in their careers.

Also: Collective bargaining agreements with the unions open on July 1.

As to necessary capital projects: “We’ll have our own (staff) team do demo (demolition) for significant cost savings; lay floors; paint,” Leach said, thereby realizing additional savings.

The school board also is trying to plan for increases in enrollment, and determine how many additional students will be in a given class: they don’t tend to be “sprinkled evenly” throughout the district’s buildings.

The positive, in Leach’s view? According to his real estate contacts, housing inventory is currently low. “Our saving grace,” preventing what could be mushrooming enrollment.

NextRegular meeting: Feb. 11, 2019, Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, 7 p.m.

Special meeting (approve Phase II capital bids) and Work Session – Budget Presentation #2: Feb. 25, Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center, 7 p.m.




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