Clarence Budget Facts

Did you miss Monday’s budget meeting? It was very well attended, and many congratulations to Clarence’s Destination Imagination teams, and to the winners of the 27th Congressional District’s art contest – the top three were all Clarence kids!

Rick Mancuso gave the budget presentation, and noted that although the levy is being increased by about 3.8%, if you break down where the increases are coming from, instructional costs are going up 3.13%, while debt service for capital projects went up almost 8% to handlea recent debt refinancing that will save $3 million over time. Administration costs were up only 1.81%. Wages will increase about 4% this year, including the 11 restorations. Health insurance costs are up only 5% (most places have double-digit increases).

Cost containment measures include Clarence’s membership in a utilities coop for electric and gas, as well as coops for worker’s comp, and liability insurance with 500 other districts statewide. The self-funding of health insurance keeps those increases lower than elsewhere, and the district is also part of a purchasing coop, and shares its transport supervisor with Akron.

As for revenues, the state has withheld $1.8 million in aid that is owed to the district, but being withheld to balance the state’s books thanks to the “gap elimination adjustment”.  Since its inception, the GEA has withheld over $16 million in state aid from our district, which must be recouped from local taxpayers.

This year’s proposed tax levy increase is 3.84%, well below the 4.78% state tax cap. Many town properties have been re-assessed. Because of this, and because of the town’s growth factor of 1.5%, the school tax rate will likely be LOWER THAN WHAT IT IS NOW. Based on you re-evaluation, your tax bill may increase or decrease, but the district anticipates that the current rate of $14.80/$1000 may go down to $14.20 or lower. Either way, every Clarence taxpayer qualifies for tax rebate for any increase. KEEP CLARENCE SCHOOLS GREAT URGES YOU TO VOTE YES FOR THE SCHOOL BUDGET PROPOSITION: #1.

There is also a bus proposition to buy 13 vehicles (12 buses and a plow truck). Currently, the district has 27 vehicles that are over 10 years old, and the district’s bus purchase plan will only ask for new vehicles as need. This will be a 5 year bond anticipation note with an interest rate of less than 1/2 of 1%, and NYS aids it 70%. There will be no impact for the 15/16 school year. KEEP CLARENCE SCHOOLS GREAT URGES YOU TO VOTE YES FOR THE BUS PROPOSITION: #2.

Mr. Mancuso added that the state aids transportation at higher rate than rest of the budget. Bus debt on a $200,000 home (~ $3000/yr) is $6.60/YEAR – $39.90 is for entire bus program. Annual replacement of about a 10th of the fleet will improve reliability, help the environment, ensure safety, improve efficiency, and keeps any tax increases flat and predictable. safety.

In spite of all our challenges, Clarence maintains the 3rd highest academic ranking in WNY, the 6th lowest per pupil spending in ALL OF UPSTATE NEW YORK (432 districts), is 6th in WNY in administrative efficiency, 3rd for cost effectiveness, and has the 2nd lowest full value tax school tax rate in WNY, which is due to go down.

On the question of sustainability, Mancuso added that the district’s projections are very conservative. Even the projected enrollment figures have indicated recently that projections of enrollment decreases won’t be as dramatic as forecast. Revenues over expenses are steady for 5 years.

How the reassessments will affect properties will differ person to person, but there appears to be about a 7% increase in assessment overall in the town. Usually we get a 1 – 2% increase based mostly on new builds. With a $14.80 rate this year, next year it will drop quite a bit because of the re-evaluation. It is likely to go as low as $14.30/1000 – maybe lower. Remember that the levy is the amount of money the district needs when you subtract state aid and sales tax. This won’t change, and will be apportioned over the new, larger value. Therefore, the rate won’t be $15.37 or anywhere near that – will be likely $14.20-$14.30. In most cases, taxes should stay about the same.

The veteran’s exemption adds a bit to the levy increase. With 1 – 2 % of new growth in the district, the levy would have been 2.5% instead of 3.8%, but the veteran’s exemption causes the levy to make up the lost revenue. School tax increase rebate checks for 2014 – 2015 were sent in November 2014. “If you paid an increase in school taxes, you should have gotten one”.

The proposed budget restores 11 teachers and librarians, the majority of whom were laid off 3 years ago. The schools need these positions restored because they are, “essential in keeping and maintaining the core curriculum”. Dr. Hicks added that it would not have been fiscally prudent to, for instance, propose a bond to borrow money to finance the restoration of teaching positions.  If you restore positions, you need recurring revenue to restore them from year to year. A one-time bump would not be prudent to hire people.

Staff cut in the last 4 years, including attribution, has been 67 librarians, social workers, teachers – credentialled people. This has had an adverse impact on students. For instance, AP classes now vs. before those cuts: 23 AP courses in HS now – although the number has not decreased, sections have decreased, and class sizes have increased. Now, the High School only does one section of AP Lit, but used to do 3 – 4, and class sizes are definitively higher. Class sizes of 27 – 29 in the middle school and high school are common. The number of electives has also decreased, especially in social studies and science, and the abolition of the home & careers department. Enrollment projections are up from prior estimates, especially in kindergarten. The district had 285, but there are 301 now enrolled & accounted for.  The 5 year projection says population will rise, and enrollment drop will be smaller than originally projected. Elementary has reduced beyond what was set for K-2, 3-5 sizes, and a couple of bubble classes in each elementary, pushing 27 – 28 kids, depending on the building. 30% of kids in 3 – 8 opted out of NYS testing.

The Clarence school district spends less than $13k per pupil – the Median statewide is $22k per pupil. We are 6th lowest in NYS, and we spend about 50% less per kid than the median statewide. We are a lot less than even the 400+ upstate districts.

One of the anti-school candidates for board posted this to his Facebook page Tuesday morning:

When the district presents its budget, they like to pacify things by saying this year’s increase is *ONLY* $170 dollars more on a $300,000 dollar home. In reality it’s $170 on top of what you’re already paying. It’s on top of last year’s increase and the year before that and so on. In just 6 years you’re paying over $1,000 more in school taxes. With budget projections indicating a constant 2 million dollar increase every year, there is no end in sight. Keep in mind, the district used over 24 million dollars in reserves between 2008 and 2013 in order to balance the budget. Those reserves have dried up so you can’t expect what has happened in the past to continue. As yearly reserves grow even tighter, they will try and levy more taxes to balance the budget instead of reducing their expenses. Personnel costs are the main reason why this budget increases every year. The costs continue to rise regardless of enrollment or how many people are laid off. The district has cut 113 positions since 2013 and still had a 1.1 million dollar increase in the wages this year. The path is unsustainable.

The funny thing is that we didn’t have increases for quite some time in the late aughts. Many homeowners who go here find that they are paying less in actual dollars than they did in 2006, when the decreases began. The other thing that people forget is that the town growth factor of about 1 – 2%, added to the inflation rate of 1 – 2% means that you get mathematically flat growth year over year if levy increases stay around 3 – 4%. If the economy heats up and inflation gets up to the 3% range, or if houses start to fill up the wide expanses at Spaulding Green bump the growth factor higher than 2%, then even a 5% tax levy increase would represent mathematically flat growth.

The district didn’t use reserves to “balance the budget”; it uses reserves to give the taxpayers a break, and the district anticipates using $1.85 million in reserves every year for the next 5 years. As the state’s crisis wanes and GEA funds are released, and state aid increases to their proper levels, the pressure on local taxpayers will also decrease.

But the conclusion is always the same – the entire central thesis of the anti-school people always revolves around teacher salaries. They don’t  like that teachers earn a living wage. They don’t like that teachers get raises. The district has not, incidentally cut “113 positions since 2013”, but instead 113 positions have been lost over the “last four years”.  The $1.1 million increase in wages this candidate complains about includes the salaries of the 11 restored positions – 1/10th of what the district has lost over the last 4 years.

Keep Clarence Schools Great thinks that it’s important to ease the burden on local taxpayers as much as possible, but we will not accept anything less from a school board member other than looking out for the interests of district students.

For that reason, KEEP CLARENCE SCHOOLS GREAT URGES YOU TO VOTE “MD”: MICHAEL FUCHS AND DENNIS PRIORE FOR SCHOOL BOARD. 

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