Despite uncertainty all around, VCSD budget in good shape for next year

NEW SCOTLAND — With so much changing so quickly at the state level, Superintendent Frank Macri on Monday recommended to the Voorheesville School Board that it put off adopting a $26 million budget for next year. 

The board typically adopts a budget at its April meeting for voters to decide on in May, but New York State pushed both school budget votes and school board elections until June 1 or later. 

Also on Monday, the New York State Board of Regents announced that it was canceling this year’s exams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State testing for grades three through eight had been suspended for the year on March 20. Also on March 20, the federal government announced that it will waive standardized testing mandates for schools this year.

Even with all of the uncertainty, the school district is in good shape heading into the 2020-21 school year and, if the state is able to pass through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to the district, Voorheesville would have a budget gap of zero dollars to start the new school year, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Francis Rielly told The Enterprise on Wednesday. 

Voorheesville was supposed to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of a $37,000 increase in Foundation Aid from the state (and about $6.5 million in total from the state) before the pandemic hit — but that money got pulled back and the Foundation Aid was kept flat.

So now, the state is supposed to take the federal CARES money and use it to offset what it was going to give to the district in additional Foundation Aid.  

There’s about $13 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund in the CARES Act — of which New York State is slated to receive about $1.04 billion.

One thing that makes Voorheesville unique is that it has the highest growth factor in the Capital Region, Rielly said on Monday; a lot more properties are going on the tax rolls. In New Scotland, for example, 30 new homes came online between 2018 and 2019. The new homes don’t mean lower taxes; they just help to distribute the new load. 

For example, this year’s property tax levy was about $18.2 million, and the maximum that the district can raise property taxes for next year is about 3.14 percent, which would generate an additional $571,000 in revenue for the school district. 

So, if an established New Scotland homeowner had annual school tax bill of $2,000 and the 30 new homes came on the tax rolls, that homeowner would still be on the hook for the $2,000 school-tax bill, but now, that $571,000 in new revenue would be divided among 130 homes instead of 100. 

One thing that could cause an issue is that fiscal years of the school district and state, Reilly said. 

New York’s fiscal year starts April 1; while Voorheesville’s starts July 1.

So, there is still about $200,000 that Voorheesville has yet to receive from the state for the current school year — when the school district is in its fiscal fourth quarter, the state is in its fiscal first quarter, so Rielly said he doesn’t know if the school district is going to see that money. And the district won’t know that until Governor Andrew Cuomo does his first-quarter look-back. 

If Voorheesville doesn’t receive that $200,000 from the state, it won’t affect payroll or program, Rielly said; it’s just that the fund balance will have to be tapped. And Voorheesville counts on using $300,000 of unrestricted fund balance each year in its budget, so using an additional $200,000 could have an impact. 

But Rielly said the district learned its lesson from its escalating prescription-drug cost problem about being conservative and to save wherever it can — and it has. 

However, what happens after the 2020-21 school year is unknown. Rielly said, “Boy, I really don’t know, there are just all sorts of things that can happen to budgets”; it really depends on when the state starts seeing its revenue stream generate again.

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