More State aid good news for Tupper school district

by Dan McClelland
For the first time in recent years the Tupper Lake Central School District will receive what Superintendent of Schools Seth McGowan Monday called “a sizable bump in state aid.”
The board of education met in special session Monday for a budget briefing by Mr. McGowan and Business Manager Dan Bower, in the wake of the recently adopted New York State budget.
The new state financial plan for the 2018-19 school year adopted by the state legislature over the April 1 weekend saw substantial increases in aid for education.
The two administrators said they would have final figures worked out this week for board members in time for consideration of the new Tupper Lake school budget at a regular board meeting Monday.
At a budget forum several months ago administrators didn't have any realistic projections of state aid revenues to share with the board or the public, other than the figures in the Governor's January executive budget proposal.
Mr. McGowan said Tupper Lake's share of state aid next year turned out to be about $300,000 more than the Governor had proposed in the final budget adopted by legislators over the April 1 weekend.
“State aid worked for us this budget,” a very pleased superintendent told board members Monday.  In recent years the local school district has seen decreases in all the various aid categories- Foundation aid, building aid, transportation aid, etc.
This year all those categories saw increases, Mr. McGowan noted.
He said building aid for this coming year was a big factor in the overall increase, given the district's  participation in the current building project that will wrap up this year in all school buildings.
Overall, he said, state aid is up about 12% over the current year.  When the robust building aid isn't factored in, the education aid in the remaining categories will increase by 4.21%.
One of the reasons for Tupper Lake state aid increase was a decrease in local property values in the district three years ago.  Education aid is always keyed to three year old property values in a school district.
Mr. McGowan said he and Mr. Bower believe there will be no reason to exceed the  state tax cap in the district's tax levy next year.
Although the tax cap adopted by the state several years ago is universally referred to as the two percent tax cap, the two percent figure rarely comes into play.
The town and village here for example in recent years have seen tax caps far below two percent, when everything is factored into what has been called a very complex formula.
Many exemptions also come in to play which help school districts like Tupper Lake's.  Consequently, this school district has seen tax caps as high as 3.5% in recent years.
Unlike past years in the district when positions have been eliminated and retiring employees not replaced, that won't be the case this year, according to Superintendent McGowan.  “Retiring positions will be refilled and there will be no staff reductions!”
In last year's budget, provisions were made to hire an additional school librarian and a district psychologist, but candidates for those positions were never found.  Mr. McGowan said those figures would stay in the new budget, with the hope good candidates could be found to take those positions.
“It feels good this year,” after years of reductions, the school chief admitted that evening.
Mr. McGowan said his sources in Albany and the district's financial planners figure  that with this year being an election year, state aid figures should stay consistent for the next two school years through 2020.  “After that it's crazy to speculate!”
Dan Bower confirmed this year's budget would be under the state imposed tax cap.  The question for the district, right now however, is how much the district will be able to increase its levy on property owners and still stay under the cap.
A good part of any exemptions this year will involve expenses and revenues associated with the current building program.
Right now, according to Mr. Bower, the district is paying for the renovations done this first year of the program with bond anticipation notes, which involve short-term borrowing.  Within several years, however, those anticipation notes have to be rolled into actual bonds, financed over 15 or so years.  How all that financing figures out will determine the amount of building aid the district will get and exactly in what future year.
“But I don't see any scenario that we won't be under the tax cap this year...and that's very good news for the district!”
Mr. McGowan told the board members that his long-range goal for the district and its financing- if state aid holds in future years- is to be able to someday soon hire more faculty members at the high school to offer more elective for students like many neighboring school districts do.
“It would be nice to enrich (our curriculum) again!”
More faculty members would also help the district better address the academic needs of younger children coming into the school system each year, he told the elected school leaders.
Increasing the ratio of teachers to students in each primary grade classroom is one effective way to help students learn, he added.
“Maybe not this budget or the next one, but eventually,” he said of the need for more teachers here.
Board member Wayne Davison asked about school enrollment projections for this coming year and was told student numbers will be up slightly this coming year.
Mr. Bower called that fact “more good news” for the district.