Budget planning season is under way

Pioneer Board of Education members got their first look at the many challenges shaping the 2021-22 general fund budget.

At the board's Jan. 19 regular meeting, assistant superintendent Nick Silvaroli explained that the budget planning process impacts not only the next school year, but the district's long-range fiscal health as well.

He said the district's current $58.6 million budget is supported with 68.7 percent state and federal aid, 22.7 percent local tax levy, and 8.6 percent other funding (Medicaid, interest, BOCES refund, BOCES property rentals, admissions and the fund balance).

Mr. Silvaroli said the district's budget planning objective remains balancing the needs of students and the ability of local taxpayers to fund education. 

As in past years, Mr. Silvaroli again criticized the state's unwillingness to fully fund an aid category known as Foundation Aid, in spite of recent court cases directing it do so. Foundation Aid losses for Pioneer alone have totaled $66.8 million since 2007-08.

On the revenue side for 2021-22, Mr. Silvaroli said the district's property tax cap is expected to fall below 2 percent, while this year's state aid picture is unpredictable at best. Pioneer does have a fund balance or savings account, but Mr. Silvaroli cautioned against relying too much on that. He said he anticipates Albany will be decreasing the traditionally high aid categories for the next 3 to 5 years.

As for expenditures, Mr. Silvaroli anticipates six to eight teacher retirements this year, but also predicts increases in teacher and employee retirement system rates, along with health insurance expense hikes. Special education placements and services have yet to be determined—these have been trending upward in recent years—and Mr. Silvaroli said the district's contracts for cleaning and transportation are due for renewal. 

Mr. Silvaroli said at the state level, districts will be lobbying for pre-pandemic aid levels to be restored (Governor Cuomo withheld payments to schools during the height of the pandemic), while lawmakers will be looking for federal stimulus funds as a lifeline out of the COVID-related economic downturn.