After more than an hour of friendly but impassioned debate in the face of possible massive aid cuts and weighing the option to cut over 70 staff members, the Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education approved a final proposed budget for the 2020-21 school year that would entail fewer reductions.
District residents will vote on the proposal next month.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the board approved a budget that would account for a $1.7 million gap based on revised numbers given by the state back in April. In the process, the board rejected the budget recommended by the district that was created under the anticipation that the state will slash the district's foundation aid, which is the base aid districts get.
Auburn and most other Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES school districts are expecting to receive less state aid than Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed in January due to a massive revenue drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo's office announced last month that the governor would be able to announce adjustments to aid to districts on a quarterly basis.
Auburn superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said the district gave the board a scenario based on Cuomo's number in April, a scenario accounting for a 20% foundation drop — which would mean $6.3 million in lost revenue, on top of the $1.7 million — and the budget the district recommended, accounting for 10% in foundation aid cuts. Last week the district expected a 20% foundation aid loss based on Cuomo's statements and the district anticipated new figures from the state to be in May 15, Pirozzolo said, though those new numbers have not arrived.
After district officials and board members discussed whether to select the $1.7 million gap scenario or the 10% foundation aid cut proposal, board member Eli Hernandez made a resolution to amend the recommended proposed budget to the one based on the $1.7 million gap, with an amount of $80,725,559. That would be an increase from the district's current amount of around $78.9 million. The resolution was approved by every board member except Sam Giangreco. That budget was then approved with that same ratio.
Under the budget picked by the board, cuts would be 25 aides, two unfilled elementary teacher positions, two elementary special education positions, a director of instruction, an unfilled speech teacher and two unfilled custodial positions. Hernandez and other board members emphasized the importance of the district informing the community that funding reductions are still a real possibility.
"I just would like to just thank all of you, especially the administrative team," Hernandez said after the board voted. "This is hard work, this isn't easy."
The budget the district recommended would have had a gap of around $4.8 million and 74.5 positions would be cut, with 61.5 positions eliminated, plus 13 that would not be filled.
Pirozzolo and district business official Lisa Green said they both feel it is likely the state could still reduce the district's aid. Pirozzolo said after the meeting that he was unsure about the $1.7 million gap because he wanted to be mindful of the possibility that many community members won't have jobs due to the pandemic in the face of a possible property tax increase and didn't want to give "false hope" to the community and staff in case the state still slashes aid.
He said if the community approves the proposed budget next month and the state does make cuts, there are other scenarios. He added the vote would simply bring the budget up to that $80,725,559 and the district couldn't exceed that, but they could go lower.
A remote public hearing on the budget is set for 6;45 p.m. May 26.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.
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