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First work session held on Lancaster Central School Districts budget

BY: Mike Pidanick, Metro Source | January 31, 2013

LANCASTER- It's time to discuss the budget for the Lancaster Central School District board of education. The first work session for the 2013-14 budget was held at the end of Monday's meeting at the Central Avenue School Building.

The governor's office recently announced its $21 billion budget for school state aid. Lancaster is estimated to receive $29,246,886, an increase of 4 percent. But Lancaster officials say that figure can be misleading.

“When you look at the governor’s proposal, it looks like we’re getting a $1.1 million increase in state aid, but that’s actually not the fact,” said Jamie Phillips, assistant superintendent for Business & Support Services for Lancaster Schools. “When you look at actual aid received versus what they’re proposing we’re receiving, there’s a difference. But there’s also a difference in what we’ve budgeted to receive this school year to what we will be able to budget for, for next year.”

The actual aid payable amount is estimated to be $27,694,474, an increase of about $21,750 from this school year. The amount Lancaster is actually estimating to receive is decrease of $556,274 from what the district is currently budgeting.

State-mandated programs and other discrepancies lead to the differential. But oftentimes, the public just sees the first figure and doesn't understand why the budget is how it is and putting together the budget isn’t as easy as it may seem.

"We go through this year after year after year," Board Member Marie MacKay said. "When it comes down to the crunch time, we're crunching to make sure we're providing the same services we have in the past. And to give them the outstanding education that these students should have. But as long as there's mandates and as long as there's demands, it just gets tougher and tougher."

Superintendent Edward Myszka added, "My neighbors are going to feel the same way: 'Well, you've got all this state aid.' But it's just never the case."

Sources of discrepancy include Universal Pre-K, expenditure driven aids, transportation aid and building aid recalculation. Expenditure-driven aids can only be used for that area and some items are not aid-able. So for example, if the district doesn't use its entire transportation budget, then it won't get all of the aid it is told it will get.

"If the comptroller's office were come to the school district and do a budget audit, they would tell us we're supposed to use the governor's run to make our budget,” Phillips said. “If I did that this year, we would have a $1.5 million shortfall."

Some parts of the proposed 2013-14 budget were revealed at Monday's meeting. The operations & maintenance department budget is proposed to rise by $142,378 or 2.02 percent to $7,188,597. Much of that is due to salary increase. The transportation budget is proposed to jump $115,339 or 1.82 percent to $6,436.606. That includes the purchase of eight new school buses. Employee benefits are proposed to go up $2,648,674 or 11.61 percent to $25,456.852.

Meanwhile, debt services are proposed to see a decline of $697,118 or 11.45 percent to $5,392.673.

For the 2012-13 school year, the property tax rate for Lancaster rose to $15.95 per 1,000 assessed valuation; for Cheektowaga $25.72 per $1,000 assessed valuation; and for Elma $337.33 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Last year's budget passed by a count of 1,604 to 1,547.

More work sessions for the 2013-14 budget are scheduled for February, March and April. The budget meeting is May 13 and the vote is May 21.

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