State aid helps narrow Saranac Lake school budget gap

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake Central School District has reduced its budget gap for the next school year from $1.6 million to roughly $600,000, thanks in part to additional school aid in the state budget lawmakers adopted last month.

But the district isn’t out of the woods yet. School officials are considering a range of options to close the rest of the gap and meet the state’s property tax cap, including completely outsourcing universal pre-kindergarten, cutting staff and restructuring some programs.

In a presentation to the school board Wednesday night, Assistant Superintendent for Business Dan Bower said the adopted state budget provided the district with $7,573,600 in aid for the next school year, which he called “a pretty significant increase,” to the tune of $514,677, over what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed in his executive budget. It’s $392,532 more in aid than the district received this year.

Bower said the executive budget had proposed eliminating half of the district’s high tax aid, which is provided to school districts with high property taxes. The adopted budget restored that cut, giving the district the full $227,000 it saw last year in high tax aid.

State legislators also reduced the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a major school funding cut implemented several years ago, that school districts across the state faced next year by providing what they called GEA restoration aid. Saranac Lake schools received $389,784 in that category; the governor had only proposed restoring $65,000.

Based on those changes, the district’s revenue projection for 2013-14 is $28,080,442. Expenses are expected to total $28,705,369.

“That leaves us with a lot smaller budget gap than what we were talking about before,” Bower told the board. “It was $1.6 (million) at one point and then $1.3 (million). The aid has certainly helped us, the increased aid, but (the gap) is still $625,000, and that’s where we have some work ahead of us.”

In order to get the district’s tax levy down to its estimated state limit of 3.67 percent, Bower said several things are being considered, including eliminating district-operated universal pre-kindergarten. The district receives $137,700 from the state for UPK. In recent years that money has been divided between the district, which does UPK at Bloomingdale Elementary School, and three private day care and preschool providers: Children’s Corner, Kids R Us and Tendercare Tot Center.

“We will just contract with the collaborating agencies and give them the money to run our program,” Bower said. “We did a (request for proposals) and received four (proposals) back. We’re in the process of determining how many children can be served. It looks like this is a feasible option but we still have some work ahead.”

Other potential moves to close the budget gap include not filling vacancies caused by retirements, restructuring some programs or positions and “targeted staff reductions,” although Bower didn’t name any positions that are on the chopping block.

“The goal is to make reductions that will have the least impact on student instruction,” he said.

The board may consider adopting the budget at its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Petrova School Library. If not, it has to be adopted by April 26. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. on May 14, also in the Petrova Library.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or