Local school districts will see some of their state aid restored under the $132 billion state budget approved by lawmakers early Thursday morning, but they'll still be getting less than last year.
The Saranac Lake Central School District will get $7,303,541 from the state, which is $164,000 more than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had proposed in his Executive Budget, according to state aid projections provided by Dan Mac Entee, a spokesman for state Sen. Betty Little. Still, that amount of aid is about $466,000 less than the district received last year.
The Tupper Lake Central School District saw $169,000 in aid restored, meaning it will collect $7,590,391, which still represents an overall loss of $204,509 compared to last year.
The Lake Placid Central School District will see $2,253,807 in state aid. About $75,000 in aid was restored, meaning the district will only lose $23,000 compared to what it got from the state last year.
Nearly $20,000 in state aid is being restored to the Keene Central School district, which will get a total of $631,651 from the state, a loss of roughly $75,000 compared to last year.
There is some dispute about the numbers the state used in coming up with these aid figures, but local school officials say the amounts are generally accurate.
Dan Bower, the Saranac Lake school district's assistant superintendent for business, said he calculated the district's restored aid at $154,000 as opposed to $164,000.
"It's more than what we were hoping for, so it will help us bring our numbers in where we were hoping to be," he said.
The restored aid will be used to reduce the district's tax levy, which school officials have been trying to keep at 2 percent, in line with the governor's proposed property tax cap. The money will not be used, Bower said, to restore any of the 15 positions the district plans to eliminate. School officials have said they're cutting those jobs to match staffing levels with declining student enrollment.
Bower told school board members Wednesday night that they are still working to reduce the spending increase in the proposed budget.
"Our goal was to get as close to zero as we could (on spending)," he said. "We think we can legitimately get it down to less than a half-percent."
Several proposals that Bower said would have hurt the district were left out of the state budget. One would have shifted the state's share of the cost of residential placements for special education students to school districts. That cost is currently split between the state, counties and districts.
Another budget proposal that was removed would have restricted districts from getting state aid to replace buses until the vehicles are at least 10 years old or have logged 120,000 miles. The measure drew sharp criticism from school officials in rural areas like the Tri-Lakes, where school buses have to travel long distances and age quicker than buses that serve urban or suburban districts.
At Wednesday's meeting, school board members thanked the district's administrators and building principals, who were asked at the outset of the budget process to cut their purchasing budgets by 20 percent or more.
"I give big kudos to all the buildings because the amount that people have dropped from what they did the previous year is unbelievable," said board member Clyde Baker. "They really did a good job of pulling back on what they needed."
Leonard Sauers, Lake Placid schools' business administrator, said his estimate of the aid restoration to his district is $69,777, about $5,000 less than the state's figures.
"Quite frankly, I wasn't expecting anything because we thought money was supposed to go to all the poor districts; at least that's what we heard originally," Sauers said. "I was kind of surprised we got anything restored. It's going to help."
Sauers said the restored aid will help the district "manage a more favorable tax levy." As of Tuesday night's school board meeting, the district's proposed levy for 2011-12 stood at 4.4 percent and the budget contained a spending increase of roughly 3.45 percent. Sauers said he'd like to get the levy under 4 percent.
"There's still changes that are going to be made to the budget between now and the time it's approved," he said. "This is not cut in stone. We'd love to get it as low as possible."
Garry Lanthier, business manager for the Tupper Lake Central School District, said he's expecting $227,630 in additional money, according to the numbers he's seen from the state.
That's still $204,509 less than the district received last year.
"It's great that we're getting more," Lanthier said. "But we could've used a lot more than that. ... That's still less than what we used to received two years ago."
Tupper Lake school officials have yet to release any preliminary budget numbers, but Lanthier said district Superintendent Seth McGowan plans to present some at a school board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.
Lanthier said he wasn't sure how the aid restoration would affect the budget since he needed to work that out with McGowan, who was out sick Thursday.