The Fayetteville-Manlius School District is bracing for a challenging budget year for 2020-21 as the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a state budget gap that New York state officials are partially filling with monies that had been promised to schools.
The adopted state budget freezes the district’s base operating aid—foundation aid—at the current school year’s level, which is $250,000 less than what had been allocated to the F-M district when the governor released his executive budget proposal in January, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
In addition to less state aid for schools in the adopted state budget, the governor has forecast possible mid-year budget reductions for schools statewide.
In response, F-M officials are proposing an $88.30 million operating budget for 2020-21 that includes such reductions as fewer field trips, elimination of the district’s annual summer census and a reduction in certain areas of athletics spending.
“Our strategic plan served as a guide as we developed this budget proposal against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Superintendent Craig J. Tice said. “We recognize the significant impact it is having on state and local finances and our community members. As such, this budget proposal includes reductions in spending where there would be the least impact on the district’s instructional programming and ongoing security enhancements.”
On April 20, the F-M Board of Education adopted the budget proposal.
Tax levy increase is at district’s ‘cap’
The district has two primary revenue sources: state aid and the property tax levy. The tax levy is the total amount of money the district collects from property owners within the district to support the school budget.
State aid would support 22.80% of the proposed budget while the tax levy would support 74.30%. Sources such as interest income would account for the remaining 2.90% of the district’s anticipated revenue.
Compared to the current school year’s budget, the district is proposing a tax levy increase of 3.33%, which includes a 2.24% increase to fund ongoing programs and a 1.09% increase to cover capital project debt related to recently completed projects at Enders Road Elementary School, F-M High School and Fayetteville Elementary School.
The levy increase is at the district’s tax levy limit, or cap, so a simple majority of voters will be required to authorize the proposal.
Foundation aid is flat for 2020-21
New provisions in the state budget contribute to uncertainty for school districts as they plan for the next school year. The provisions include three periodic reviews of state revenue that could result in mid-year school aid cuts. There is also a new “Pandemic Adjustment” state aid reduction that the state is using to help fill its budget gap.
F-M is losing $170,000 in state aid due to the Pandemic Adjustment, and while federal stimulus dollars will replace those funds, the possibility for mid-year aid cuts means that schools may receive even less state funding than was promised in the adopted state budget. In response, F-M is budgeting for an additional loss of state aid in the amount of $500,000.
“The COVID-19 crisis is having far-reaching impacts across the state, including drastically impacting educational funding,” said William Furlong, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services. “The governor has said school districts could see further reductions in state aid so we developed a budget proposal that takes this uncertainty into account while preserving the integrity of our academic programs and balancing our fiscal responsibility to our taxpayers.”
Because the district has not been operating as it typically would, officials have identified a number of potential budget reductions totalling $1.1 million in the areas of transportation, utilities, maintenance, conferences, supplies and equipment that will help offset mid-year reductions in state aid.
Tax rate estimated to be less than 0.50%
The school tax levy is just one factor, along with assessment rates and equalization rates, that municipalities use to determine residents’ tax rates, which are used to calculate what each property owner will ultimately pay in school taxes.
The tax rate is typically less than the tax levy because of growth in the property tax base.
The district estimates that the proposed 3.33% school tax levy increase would generate a tax rate increase of about 0.50% for town of Manlius residents. (The town of Manlius makes up the majority of homeowners within the school district.)
Budget vote and board elections delayed
School leaders are still awaiting a rescheduled date and process for the budget vote and board member elections. An executive order delayed the vote and elections until at least June 1. The state has not yet released additional guidance related to the budget vote and board member elections. The district will communicate this information once it is available.