The Warwick Valley School District administration drilled down to the details of its proposed budget for the 2022-23 school year at a special meeting and work session held on March 3.
The focus this time was on expenditures, namely on BOCES services, technology, special education, transportation, and buildings and grounds.
The administration proposes a projected budget of $102,009,761 – an increase of $3,389,719 over the current year’s $98,620,042 budget, but with a shortfall of $379,684.
Salaries, health insurance, and special education (BOCES) form the largest parts of the budget, at $2,493,303, $943,800, and $831,740 respectively, and inflation is currently running at 7.5 percent.
The administration will look at places in the budget where it can close the budget gap, including additional staff hired to address the COVID-19 pandemic, such as cleaners and extra instructional aides to implement social distancing in classrooms.
“This is why it’s important to have a fund balance,” said Timothy Holmes, Assistant Superintendent for Business.
The district will have a negative tax cap for the proposed budget, at a decrease of $237,622.
“Having a negative cap doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Warwick Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. David Leach said, and while he’s “proud” that WV is below the state-mandated tax cap, he’s “not comfortable” with the decrease in revenue.
New York State Aid
Based on a January 21, 2022, projection from Governor Kathy Hochul’s budget, Warwick is expected to receive $30,644,987 from Albany – an increase of $2,757,471 or just under 10 percent, vs. the current school year.
That aid is incorporated into $101,630,077 total projected revenue for the district for the coming school year (the district’s revenue includes the school tax; library tax; state aid; non-tax revenue; an assigned fund balance), an increase of a little more than $3 million in revenue over the current year.
BOCES, or Board of Cooperative Educational Services, provides services to the district that include Special Education, election software, technology, and vocational training/career services, the majority of which (nearly 64 percent) is Special Ed.
BOCES board members Deborah Heppes, Kerri Stroka, and William Hecht presented their proposed budget before the WV school board.
Among the highlights: BOCES is “in the early onset of plans” to be in the former Pine Island Elementary school building, according to Stroka. She said that BOCES will be serving “newcomers” (to the US), as well as students with disabilities – all of whom will be elementary-school age.
BOCES’ proposed administrative budget for 2022-23 (which includes all the districts they serve in Orange County) is $8,501,291.
Total proposed rental and capital budgets for BOCES for 2022-23 is $1,938,363 – a 1.68 percent decrease from the current budget year.
The BOCES vote will be held on April 21, 2022, and will include both the proposed budget as well as two open board seats.
WV has proposed $1,947,882 for tech spending, which includes items such as computer hardware and software for instructional purposes; district communication; general supplies; BOCES technology, among others. The number represents a $97,422 increase over the current school year budget.
WV has proposed $10,900,500 for the upcoming school year, an increase of $1,051,471, or greater than 10 percent, than the current year budget.
Currently there ae 946 students requiring Special Ed: the overwhelming majority, or 497, of them – are in-district K-12. Special Ed costs include legal hearings, doctors and therapists, tuition to private schools, BOCES services, and general supplies.
BOCES “is a pathway to graduation for many students,” Leach said.
On the other hand, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Megan McGourty, said that there are students with “significant educational deficits,” levels of need who can’t be supported in-district: “It’s hard” to send those kids out of district.
She added that the need for Special Ed services has increased: In the past year, there were “about double the number” of Special Ed students at the kindergarten level.
Also, sometimes those children need to be sent to private placements with a lot of therapies.
McGourty added that WV does offer more special education programs and services now than it did even ten years ago, and often involve multi-age classes that offer life-experience learning as well as academics.
WV has proposed $1,069,500 for its transportation budget, reflecting a slight ($140,00)) increase from the current budget year. However, the district stands to get back 61 percent of those funds in transportation aid from NY State.
Holmes pointed out that district buses travel a total of over 600,000 miles a year: “We didn’t realize that” until the transportation department started tracking the total mileage.
One of the propositions on May’s ballot will be the purchase of six school buses and incidental equipment at $585,000 maximum – an amount that will include the use of up to $250,000 from the capital bus reserve.
Holmes continued that one of the main expenses in this part of the budget is gas and propane: “I’m a little concerned about that (in light of current fuel prices).”
Another expense not usually associated with buses: “There is a very small percentage of students” who require an RN on board, either because they require medication that must be administered at precise intervals, or because the students in question have profound disabilities and can’t take their own medicine.
Buildings and grounds
The district has budgeted $2,283,430 for the proposed 2022-23 budget – an increase of $116,012, or 5.35 percent. While the administration says that all operational expenses were frozen for 2022-23, the cost of utilities continues to rise, and certain jobs done by outside contractors (like roofing) are expensive.
Still, WV has managed to contain costs in this area, as many of its repairs and capital projects have been done by in-house staff: “Our guys do phenomenal work: it saves us a lot of money,” Holmes said.
Among the projects done by WVCSD staff: the cosmetology room at the high school; installing lead-free faucets; electrical for tech at the schools; wiring and security camera installations; Park Avenue elementary’s playground; ceiling & flooring replacements; solar trees; LED lighting replacement; district-wide painting; among others.
NEXT: Thursday, March 17, 2022 – Regular meeting: budget update April 7 – Work session, April 21 – Board of Education adopts budget
Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Megan McGourty, said that the need for Special Ed services has increased: In the past year, there were “about double the number” of Special Ed students at the kindergarten level.