Herricks school board eyes zero-increase budget

Herricks school board eyes zero-increase budget

If more state funding comes through in April, the Herricks school district may not have to increase its tax levy, district administrators said Feb. 25.

But some school board members disagreed on whether that would be the most prudent financial decision.

“It’s all about finding the right balance, that’s the challenge,” district Superintendent Fino Celano said. “We want to be efficient, but also want to respect the fact that our property owners want the most for their money.”

The board said when drafting the budget, they took into account the fact that property taxes from Herricks’ homeowners are the major source of revenue for the district’s budget.

During a presentation last Thursday, Assistant Superintendent for Business Helen Costigan outlined the district’s alternative revenue sources including 10 percent of the total budget from state aid, interest on contractual investments, the district’s summer program and Herricks Community Center rental fees.

Minor revenue also comes from other sources, such as out-of-district students.

With only a 0.12-percent tax levy increase, Celano said, the board feels “as if this proposed budget does strike that balance between the students and the communities’ finances.”

He said the district is waiting for an updated state budget that is due April 1 to see if a possible increase to state aid will come. This could allow the district to increase its tax levy even less, he said.

“I think we’re presented with a unique opportunity to put forth to the voters a zero-increase budget,” school board Trustee James Gounaris said. “It’s the residents’ money. If we can find $120,000 someplace to make it zero, I think we should do that and give the residents the break that they deserve while we can. We may never, ever be able to do it again.”

School board President Nancy Feinstein said while she agreed a zero-increase budget would a nice idea, “we don’t really know what’s coming. Just from the experience that I’ve had on the board, I think everything we have done has prepared us to be in this good position.”

She said the district would be better off continuing with its proposed increase and use the funds to cover any costs that would be overseen in more difficult years, including a list of repairs and improvements being drafted by the Facilities Committee.

“If we can get additional funding in the aid we’re going to get, that may be the way to go,” Gounaris said. “The zero is an interesting proposition for us to consider. Why take one dollar extra if we don’t need it if we have a way to supplement those funds?”

The proposed $109.3 million budget adds funds for new teachers and other staff, technology equipment, infrastructure fixes and new programs, including an elementary robotics team and additional social-emotional learning programs, Superintendent Fino Celano said in January.

About 77 percent of the budget, or about $84 million, funds the district’s educational programs; 12 percent, or about $13.7 million, funds capital expenses; and about 11 percent, or about $11.7 million, funds administrative costs.

The 0.12-percent tax levy hike is a third of the 0.36-percent increase Herricks is allowed this year under the state tax cap law, Costigan has said.

“We’re in very good shape, despite the fact that our tax cap is so low,” Celano said in January.

The relative fiscal comfort comes after several years of tight budgets stemming from a “perfect storm” of stress that affected school districts statewide, Celano has said.

Copies of the full proposed budget were available at the meeting, and discussions will continue throughout March and April before residents vote on it May 17.

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