Speaking to an unusually full house at the Dorothy C. Wilson Education Center last Thursday, Schools Superintendent David Leach and Assistant Superintendent for Business Timothy Holmes broke down the numbers – by New York State aid, taxes, other funding sources, and the amount of reserves the district has on hand for various needs.
Leach and Holmes also discussed staff salaries and buses: how many buses the district uses; how much they cost to operate; how many will need to be replaced and why; finding drivers in a national shortage; among other issues.
The normally routine – and historically sparsely-attended – work session had a near-capacity crowd of some 80 or so members of the public, several of whom were present to hear the district’s view on the ongoing requirement of masking in schools.
There was also a Warwick Police Department officer standing at the door of the meeting room.
By the numbers
The majority of funding for public education in the WV district – some 63 percent – comes from school taxes paid by district residents; aid from New York State provides nearly a third (about 30 percent); non-tax revenue paid to the district; a library bond tax; and an appropriated fund balance maintained by the WVCSD round out the remainder.
School taxes paid to the WVCSD for the current school year were $64,144,612; that amount is currently projected to decline slightly, to $63,907,805 – a decrease of nearly $237,000.
Leach explained that, based on state government formulas, Warwick gets a smaller share of state aid, as it is an affluent district.
The non-tax revenue, Leach said, has been “helpful to maintaining program.”WV students have many courses to choose from: high school students (for example) can take one more class on their schedule than “any neighboring district,” according to Leach.
An annual balancing act
The district’s stated goals are to find a way to maintain academic, athletic, music and arts, and vocational programs on the one hand, while balancing sensitivity to taxpayers by staying within the NYS mandated 2 percent tax cap.
Leach and Holmes put up a slide showing the tax cap levy history from 2014 – 15 through 2021 – 22 (with likely numbers for 2022 – 23): five out of the nine years shown reflected only slight increases in the levy from the previous year, but below the allowable 2 percent cap (the projection for the upcoming 2022 - 23 budget year shows a negative levy, or a decrease of nearly $238,000, or 0.37 percent lower than the current school year).
For district newcomers who might be wondering ‘Why are taxes so high?’ the answer, Leach said, is a higher student enrollment.
“Taxes in Warwick are fairly low,” for the past few years, Holmes said.
Still, one of the reasons for the projected negative levy is that the amount of money WV is paying on its loans from previous projects “has dropped significantly,” said Holmes.
While the closing of St. Stephen’s created a loss of some $40,000 in non-tax funds for the district, still, there was “good revenue” from other non-tax sources – rental income on district properties, and out-of-district tuitioning students of about $4.2 million for the current school year, with a slight drop to around $4.175 million projected according to Leach and Holmes.
What is an appropriated fund balance, anyway?
Per the administration’s presentation, a fund balance is created from funds remaining at the end of a school district’s fiscal year, either from not spending all the money allocated, or by increased revenue.
An appropriated fund balance is a part of the district’s fund balance from the previous year that is “applied as revenue” to the district’s budget for the following year.
An un-appropriated fund balance is a portion of a school district’s unused funds (up to four percent) to use in an unappropriated fund: these moneys are usually considered a district’s “rainy day” fund, for emergency repairs and similar unexpected expenses.
These funds provide a “security blanket: in case we need the funds, (they’re) there,” Holmes said.
The appropriated fund balance stands at $1.4 million, where it’s been for the past few years, and “where the district is comfortable,” per Holmes.
As a not-inconsequential portion of the district’s funds comes from New York State, all eyes are again on Albany, when the next round of projections come from the Legislature.
New York State provided $28,565,113 in aid to WV schools in the current school year; projections for the upcoming school year are expected to be around $31 million.
These funds help defray the costs of BOCES, transportation, hardware, software, school library, and textbooks, among other items.
NEXT: Thursday, March 3, 2022 – Work session: budget update