Wishes left out of initial school budget draft

Harvey Sotland stands along side the PowerPoint projection of his school budget draft at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 27.

Harvey Sotland stands along side the PowerPoint projection of his school budget draft at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 27.

In discussing next year’s school budget, Harvey Sotland introduced a new term. He called his first set of numbers a “draft” rather than a “preliminary budget.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said at the Feb. 27 Board of Education meeting. “But there are a lot of open items I’m optimistic about.”

Among the missing pieces of the puzzle are BOCES charges, staff retirements, special education placements and state aid. For his draft, Mr. Sotland based his state aid allowance on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal. But, traditionally, the legislature has added money to what the governor has recommended.

Mr. Sotland has been the assistant superintendent for business for more than 10 years. In his presentation, he used terms, such as “rollover budget,” that were familiar to his audience.

“Rollover” means that there are no allowances for new programs or additions to staff. The budget draft does not include the “wishes” and “needs” that were identified at the previous meeting.

Mr. Sotland referred to a “shortfall” (another familiar term) of $665,000. In other words, if the board adopted the draft, the budget would be $665,000 above the tax levy cap.

But that’s not going to happen. One of the district’s objectives is to remain under the cap, which this year is 1.74 percent. While the size of the shortfall seems ominous, it’s just $2,000 more than what it was at this time a year ago. And last year, the shortfall conveniently disappeared by April.

There is good and bad news in looking at next year’s expenses. The district will contribute a lower percentage to pension plans, but will be facing a $1.3 million increase in health insurance premiums.

Cornwall gets its health insurance through an Orange-Ulster self-insurance plan. In the past, rate hikes have been modest (2.5 to 4.5 percent per year). But recent claims experience has caused the price to go up.

Despite the increase, there’s no better option. “The closest plan is NYSHIP,” Mr. Sotland said, “and we’re still the cheapest.”

The board has four more meetings devoted to finance — March 13, March 27, April 3 and April 20. By next month, the draft will be transformed into a budget. Will it include any of the wishes? Right now it’s too soon to know.

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Editorial Staff