Uncertain State Aid Leaves Irvington School Budget In Flux

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|  by Janie Rosman  |  

Uncertainty about state aid has left the Irvington School District with a lot of unanswered questions, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kristopher Harrison. The absence of state aid and unknown savings associated with the refinancing of a bond means there are going to be a few more adjustments than usual.

The 2015-2016 push-ahead budget, which looks at current programs and the cost of maintaining them in the future, is $56,751,717. This is an increase of $45,717 and 0.81 percent above the 2014-2015 budget of $56,294,000. The proposed 2015-2016 budget of $57,954,435 reflects a $1,660,435 variance and a 2.95% increase.

“We have the good fortune to have a bond refinance and a sale on March 25, which means we’ll have good numbers the next time we meet,” he told the Board of Education. This will save the community $5 million in the remaining years the bond is used.

“We’re looking at a large bond from the original construction at the middle school and high school that has a balance of $26,615,000,” Harrison later explained. “We’re refinancing that debt for the same terms for 17 years and looking at obvious savings and better interest rates.”

The district will know within one week of the March 25 sale the benefits of refinancing. “Our bond council realized that over the course of 17 years, the district would save $5 million,” Harrison said.

He cited the Irvington Education Foundation and its efforts to complement the district’s budget. “The budget looks at increasing student opportunity, investing in our facilities, and planning for the future. We’re thinking about infrastructure. The district is in the top five percent in the state of New York, and we worked toward this budget with a process. But it’s a different process this year.”

One disappointment comes with the State Education Department’s (SED) backlog of applications, and this delay means the district is unable to begin work on the new field until the spring of 2016.

“The vote was Tuesday, and by that Friday, only three days later, the district, our engineers and architects, fulfilled all obligations, and all applications were in the SED’s possession,” he said, citing last fall’s bond vote. “Approval time is usually 22 to 24 weeks, so we followed that guidance and built into it cushion time for delays.”

Assistant Superintendent of Business Beverly Miller tracked the applications, Harrison said, and most recently learned there were 300 applications in ahead of theirs. “We reached out to the facilities division of the SED and learned the volume of applications and limited staff meant less turnaround time,” Harrison said.

Since the school can’t begin construction when it is in session, due to the volume of vehicles on campus and student and personnel safety, he said that it will have to wait until next year. “We can do other work like replace the heating in Dows Lane Elementary School, and roof replacement can be done sooner than next summer,” Harrison noted.

Another project this summer is building the new main office and nurse’s office at Dows Lane, and moving the district office into Dows Lane temporarily (they are now in modular buildings). The district awarded a bid at its March 10 meeting.

“We’re looking to expand programs at the high school and introduce new experiences at the elementary and middle schools to better prepare students for their futures and enhance technology across the district,” he said.

Harrison said the first year’s payment for a five-year lease purchase of Wi-Fi at the elementary schools is imbedded into the 2015-2016 budget. The district wants to buy 180 Chromebooks that will be housed in six mobile charging carts, and 50 new desktop computers to replace those more than six years old at Main Street School.

“The state said students need to be prepared for computer-based assessment next year,” he explained, and new technology will help.

“We’re not looking for a huge amount of money — approximately $11,000 — to add clubs and restore opportunities for kids,” Harrison said. The district once had a full-time social worker, and he would like to restore that position to meet students’ and families’ needs.

“This position was eliminated through budget cuts and reduced to a part-time community aide position. To offset costs, the district will eliminate one teaching assistant position and will not replace the community aide,” he said.

A perfect example of an unfunded/underfunded mandate is the updated state regulations for students who speak languages other than English. The state requires the district meet a new model for ESL (English as a Second Language), now called ENL (English as a New Language), which intensifies the level of services and requires additional staffing.

He noted that, while another ESL/ENL teacher is needed at a cost of $90,000 or more, the district receives $8,000 or $9,000 in funding to offset these costs.

“The district is truly motivated to maintain critical programs and valued services for our students and to enhance their opportunities,” he said, but with increased state mandates and without knowing the amount of aid the district will receive, “it’s difficult to maintain a fiscally-responsible balance.”

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