Marlboro projects $1-1.6m shortfall

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 4/10/24

Superintendent Michael Rydell gave a slide presentation last week to update the school board and the public on the current state of the 2024-25 school budget.

Rydell noted that at the April 18 …

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Marlboro projects $1-1.6m shortfall


Superintendent Michael Rydell gave a slide presentation last week to update the school board and the public on the current state of the 2024-25 school budget.

Rydell noted that at the April 18 Board of Education meeting they will have to adopt their 2024-25 budget, “that is with or without a New York State budget.”

Rydell recalled that at the start of budget process for 2024-25, a rollover budget was discussed that would include all of the district’s expenses from the previous year, resulting in a budget for next year of $65,591,761. This is up from the current year’s budget by about $1.6 million, due mostly to salary and benefit contractual increases.

Rydell reviewed possible NYS Foundation Aid outcomes: the Governor’s released budget earmarked $16,937,120 in Foundation Aid for the Marlboro district but leaves a $1.6 million shortfall; the one House budget including a 3% increase, brings the possible Foundation Aid to $17,607,049, however this still leaves the district more than $1 million short. He highlighted the Save Harmless Aid with the inflation factor came in at $17,094,223 in aid but leaves a $1.6 million gap and without the inflation factor the amount total is $17,004,229 but still leaves a $1.5 million shortfall.

Rydell presented a new slide that assumes a tax levy increase is 1.99% and showed that for the 2023-24 budget the school board tapped $2,640,382 from the Fund Balance. It also shows three possible scenarios of using the Fund Balance to offset next year’s budget: the Executive budget would have the district appropriating $3,413,447 from the fund balance; Save Harmless would use $3,346,338 of the Fund and the Save Harmless with the inflation factor would appropriate $3,323,453 from the Fund. These amounts show that the district would be taking significantly more from Fund Balance than they did for the current school year, with increases ranging from $683,000 to $773,000. He noted that regardless of the final amount of Foundation Aid the district receives, they will have to appropriate more from the fund than they did for the current school year.

Rydell pointed out that, “the more we get in [Foundation] Aid my recommendation would be to decrease the use of Fund Balance in order to balance the budget. Obviously with an approved state budget, we can approve one that we know the pieces that make up the calculations with fidelity, as opposed to a prediction, which is a much better place to be.”
Board of Education President Frank Milazzo offered some clarification.

“We are in a much better position than most districts around us. We’re only going out with a 1.99% increase [in the tax levy] under the 2.55% we could have done. We’re in a really good spot with the right numbers for our community based on what has happened in the last few years.”

Board member JoAnn Reed addressed Superintendent Rydell, pointing out that next year’s budget is going up by $2 million.

“That’s a lot of money and you say it is contractual and keeping our expenses but we have the solar grid that should be bringing us money, we have the Verizon Tower that’s coming and we have free lunches now so that is money that is freed up, so where is all of that money being used? People in the community have asked me why are we going up $2 million; that can’t be all contractual. You have said we are not hiring anybody and they are more worried about their taxes going up. People are scrimping and it’s hard now with groceries and gas and everything else.”

Milazzo suggested that when people ask why the budget is up by $2 million they are looking at the wrong number.

“The only piece of the budget that the taxpayers are paying for is the tax levy and next year’s tax levy [for 2024-25] is still lower than it was seven years ago with all of the work that’s been done [in the district].”

Reed said taxpayers want to know how much it’s going up and what they have to prepare for and we haven’t done any of that. They are trying to figure out what we’re spending $2millon on.”

Rydell said at a budget presentation in February he listed the major cost increases that drive the budget: salaries, benefits and debt to name a few, “and if you add those up it’s almost to the dollar of what our budget increased. It’s not as though we’re saying we want to increase staffing or that we want to change any sort of model; those cost drivers, which are manly related to health insurance and salaries for personnel, it is the difference from budget to budget. I think I said, something to the effect, that it’s not unexpected but it was exactly what was expected when it comes to the numbers.”

Reed also touched upon positions that the board had put in past budgets that have never been filled and maybe should be taken out.

“I’m sorry, to me I think this is very high and every year we seem to be going up $2 million. During Covid we were at about $57 million and here we are four years later and we are at $63 million and you want to go up,” she said, suggesting that, “We need to restructure and start looking at what we have; we have great programs here and we really need to look at the way we’re also spending our money.”

Rydell stressed that the district does scrutinize expenses.

“We are very mindful and we have an incredible team in this district that goes from the building level to district level who are all involved with that. Not to be cliché [but] all of the oars are rowing in the same direction. We want this to be and continue to be the premier district in the Hudson Valley. We need to be mindful of our spending and also be mindful of our planning for the future.”

Rydell offered to meet with Reed on the budget to go through, “line by line and compare our personnel with our salary lines because I think it could be highly misinterpreted and borderline dangerous to say we have positions that we are year after year not filling because that is inaccurate.”

Reed admitted that the Superintendent was correct and rephrased her comment.

“At this point it has been a year or two that we can’t fill those positions and maybe we need to do it in a different way in a different level.” Rydell suggested rather than abolish a position, “maybe we replace it with something that is of a similar ilk, but I don’t want any misinterpretation of the fiscal responsibility of the team at the district office. There are a lot of eyes on this to make sure we’re doing our best to provide for our students. I am, in every regard, not hiding or holding back anything and I pride myself on being exceptionally transparent, so if there’s a question and you want to go line by line I’ll be happy to set up a special meeting and do that.”

Rydell said a budget newsletter on the 2024-25 school budget is being prepared and will be sent out to the residents prior to the budget vote in May.