The new Ilion-Mohawk school board had its first look at a $44,125,000 proposed budget for the 2013 - 2014 school year during a meeting Wednesday at Ilion High School.
“It’s about the big picture,” said Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Superintendent Mark Vivacqua, who is overseeing the process pending the naming of a school superintendent. He said many of the details may not be in place before April 25, when the board must adopt a budget. He advised board members to focus on making sure expenses don’t exceed revenues, having a comfortable fund balance and feeding reserve funds that will enable the new district to utilize the incentive aid from the state as long as possible.
Board President Steve Coupe said the board’s first priority will be adopting a budget. The next will be hiring a superintendent, but he did not know how soon that will happen.
Final state aid figures are available now that the state budget has been adopted, Business Manager Ken Long told the board, and he used the combined figures for the two districts, as Ilion and Mohawk are still listed separately in the latest state aid runs. He explained some of the aid is designated for specific categories, such as hardware and technology, software, library and textbook. Transportation aid depends on the amount spent the previous year. When all the categories are added together, there is still an adjustment downward for gap elimination adjustment to help close the state budget deficit. Adjusted state foundation and categorical aid will total $34,168,911. This includes $5,977,268 in building aid.
The merger study projected Mohawk residents would pay lower school taxes. Mohawk residents are paying $20.85 per $1,000 tax on true value while Ilion residents are paying $17.27 tax on true value. To come up with a tax levy, Long said, he added together the levies for the two districts — $4,681,800 for Ilion and $4,069,744 for Mohawk — and added a tax levy increase at the 2 percent cap for Ilion while reducing Mohawk’s levy by $705,000. The net result is a reduction of $611,364 in the total tax levy. The revenue side of the budget also includes payments in lieu of taxes, Medicaid reimbursements, facilities rental and $500,000 from the fund balance.
Actual tax rates will not be known until August.
“Those battles are being fought now, in the assessors’ offices and in the courts,” said Long.
A question was raised about whether or not Herkimer BOCES would be leasing Remington School.
“That’s your decision,” said Vivacqua. “We’ve made overtures that we would be interested.” Long said he had not included it in the budget.
Some of the expenses — such as moving classrooms and additional staff development work — are first-year expenditures that would not be a factor in future years, according to Long. The merger study had shown no teacher layoffs, he said, so he developed the budget to reflect that. Next year, if the board finds it needs 10 teachers in one area and has 12, it may have to make some decisions on personnel. The budget also includes $50,000 for athletic uniforms, but not enough for all teams at all levels. Long said he put in a figure based on the assumption that varsity uniforms would be purchased the first year, with others to be added later.
Page 2 of 2 - He received recommendations that the district purchase vehicles for maintenance and two new school buses and included these in the plan.
Ultimately, the decision on the tax levy and other matters will be up to the board, he said.
Board member Vicky Judd asked if there is any documentation from other mergers that might help the board.
Vivacqua said there were a number of mergers in the early 1980s, but since 1983 there have only been about 13 and most of those have been annexations rather than centralizations.
“We didn’t have the tax levy limit before, we didn’t have gap elimination, there are so many differences,” he said, adding state officials have not always had the answers to questions.
Local resident Frank Gollegly asked about the need for some of the staff development meetings, adding the schools should both be using Common Core curriculum.
Common Core sets the standards, said Vivacqua, but the delivery is under local control.
A question was also raised about bringing local bargaining units together. Dick Keeler, an Ilion math teacher, said the teachers unions had created their own transition committee and lawyers had met with the faculty.
“It will be a long process, I think,” he said.
“It’s very important that this merger work and work very well,” said board Vice President Bill Lennox. He said board members are committed to fiscal conservatism. He added if residents have suggestions, they should be open about them. He said he had received an unsigned letter from a resident and when a letter is not signed, it goes in the trash.