School Supe says $11K state aid amounts to a loss

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes has been crunching numbers in preparation for Monday night's Board of Education budget meeting.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes has been crunching numbers in preparation for Monday night’s Board of Education budget meeting.

It appears that Shelter Island will receive a bump of $11,000 in state aid over last year in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget..

But without scrutiny, figures can be deceiving. In comparing the aid figures, Superintendent Michael Hynes factored in $50,000 that Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. won for the district last year at the eleventh hour. Take away that $50,000 and the district would be receiving $39,000 less in state aid, Dr. Hynes said.

Assuming that $50,000 in aid isn’t forthcoming this year, the superintendent comes up with that $11,000 increase in state aid.

“The extra $11,000 is insulting,” Dr. Hynes said. “I am hopeful that the governor reconsiders his proposed state aid numbers.”

It’s especially tough for the district to come up with a 2014-15 school year budget that increases by only 1.46 percent if it’s to avoid piercing the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap. The lower cap  for the district is because it’s calculated in line with a lowered Consumer Price Index, the federal calculation of inflation on the economy, Dr. Hynes explained.

At the initial budget hearing in January, he told Board of Education members he would be asking them to cut $200,000 from a proposed spending plan to avoid piercing the tax cap. That remains about on target if current aid numbers remain the same.

Dr. Hynes hasn’t yet released his full  budget proposal, but that figure could be released as early as Monday night.

Prior to Mr. Cuomo’s election, the traditional wisdom was that school district’s budgeted using a governor’s proposal, but knew it was a conservative figure. They could count on state legislators increasing it at some point in the process. Then came the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, and less money in the state till to allocate.

At the same time, school districts have been faced with unavoidable increases in the costs of fuel oil, employee health insurance premiums, pension increases and contractual agreements that couldn’t be broken.

That has forced Shelter Island, like other districts, to dip into reserve funds to balance budgets without gutting their educational programs, Dr. Hynes has said. But as he said at this time last year, that can’t continue forever without leaving the reserve fund empty within a couple of years.

Such a result would mean that a district would have to return to taxpayers for more money in the event of an emergency.

Districts have steadily increased co-payments employees have to provide for health insurance. And a continued recovery in the stock and bond markets would eventually result in lower pension payments, but those figures factor in returns on investment for several years, so a single year or two of better returns doesn’t immediately result in lowering pension costs.

Monday night’s budget workshop is at 6:30 p.m. to be followed by a 7 p.m. regular Board of Education meeting.