School budget battles: District bankruptcies in our near future?

If we keep cutting staff and programs, where does that leave our students?

It is just the beginning of this year's school budget battles, but there are already dire predictions of higher taxes and more layoffs, and even of school districts going belly-up.

CNY School Boards Association Director Charles Borgognoni tells us that most of the 50 districts in his group are looking at layoffs. He also predicts that in the next two years, based on their research, 'you'll have between 100 and 200 school districts in New York going to insolvency within 2 years.' Borgognoni says two districts, one near Buffalo, the other near Troy, will not meet their payrolls this June. He also says the state has never dealt with this situation, either for staffers, or for the students involved.

School districts are just putting together their preliminary budgets for next year, now that they have tentative state aid numbers from the NY budget. But, veteran West Genesee Superintendent Dr. Chris Brown (who's done over 2 dozen budgets) says 'if you take exactly what the governor gives you and put it in your budget, sometimes it's not always delivered to you.

Brown says that for the first time this year, he hopes West Genesee will make staff cutbacks based on enrollment, not on lower state aid (the district has cut 153 of its 800 staffers in the past three years). He says cutbacks are a fact, in times of declining enrollment, and by keeping current at it, his district has avoided the 'major cuts' that some others locally will be facing this year.

West Genesee will probably have a moderate tax increase, because of growing pension costs and the lower state aid. Some homeowners may think they're 'protected' by the 2% tax cap. Brown says the district has just learned its tax cap for the year is 7.9%, though he says what's actually requested will be significantly less than that.

Some districts are facing huge projected deficits--in the millions--because they've used up their reserves and must rely more on state aid. Brown says that as you look at your district's budget numbers you should look at how much reserve money they're using to cover expenses. You can find all kinds of information on district website budget reports.

Districts will hold their formal budget hearings in late April, early May, but many have information sessions before then. Budget voting this year is May 21st.