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Several new factors are in play as the Pioneer Board of Education began planning the 2019-20 general fund budget at its Jan. 22 regular meeting.


Assistant superintendent Nick Silvaroli kicked off what is planned to be a series of presentations around planning for the 2019-20 general fund budget. Mr. Silvaroli said the budget is developed with long-term objectives in mind, including charting a path for future district initiatives, creating stability in programming and services, creating stability for the taxpayers, and incorporating strategies to minimize budget risk & volatility.


Using current-year numbers, Mr. Silvaroli said the district’s revenues include 68.8 percent state aid, 22.8 percent local tax levy, and 8.4 percent other sources (Medicaid, interest, BOCES refund, BOCES property rentals, admissions, and the fund balance).


He shared a chart that showed the district's share of state aid for the last 10 years; the lowest figure was 64.7 percent in 2013-14 due largely to a poor state economy at the time.  Lagging state aid didn’t start showing improvement until 2015-16, as the district relied heavily on the fund balance to weather that period. The tax levy increased an average of 1.5 percent on average the last 10 years.


On the expenditure side, Mr. Silvaroli said district spending has increased an average of 2.09 percent per year over the last five years (net of debt service). The current budget totals $56.08 million.


Foundation Aid—which was promised by the state to school districts starting in 2007-08—has never been fully funded by Albany, resulting in huge losses for Pioneer. Mr. Silvaroli said Pioneer alone has lost $58.11 million—more than the current budget—because state government has not delivered the Foundation Aid at amounts required by law.


Mr. Silvaroli said Pioneer’s property tax increase is likely to hold steady at 2 percent. He is also calling for pulling back on Pioneer's use of the Assigned Fund Balance—the district’s savings account—as a way to keep the budget balanced.  Finally, the state must live up to its obligations on the revenue side and provide more Foundation Aid.


As for expenditures, Mr. Silvaroli said a modest number of retirements are expected, along with slight decreases in Teacher Retirement System and Employee Retirement System payments. Spending will also be influenced by health insurance rates, as well as the number of special education placements, which have shown recent increases.


Mr. Silvaroli said more will be known in the coming weeks about what kind of fiscal year it will be for school districts and the influence of a new Democrat-controlled state Legislature.