Penn Yan School faces $3 million budget gap

Gwen Chamberlain

PENN YAN — The difficult days that school officials have been warning about for the past three years are just around the corner.

Doug Tomandl, assistant superintendent for business at the Penn Yan School District says, “The only way to balance our budget to open the doors (in September) is to cut spending by $3 million.”

That’s just a number, but here’s how he and now retired Superintendent Ann Orman recently explained it to Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Sen. Tom O’Mara: “We told them we would have to lay off our entire elementary school staff.”

Emptying the halls of the elementary school isn’t on the table, but just about every other way to cut spending is, Orman said.

Tomandl presented his first review of the 2011-2012 budget to the school board Jan. 3. Carrying the current year’s spending forward will cost nearly $34 million, up about $3 million from this year. At that level, he projects the need for a tax increase of nearly 22 percent to cover a gap of over $3 million, which was based on data from before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, which have other implications.

“There’s no way we can be fiscally responsible to the community and say we need a 22 percent tax increase,” he told the board.

Orman told the board the administrative team has been working since December on options for cuts, knowing that the gap elimination aid that has kept huge tax increases from hitting the school districts over the past two years, will not be filtering down.

Orman noted with employees being the biggest expenses for the school district,  there have been attempts over the past couple of years to reduce staffing. So far 37 positions have been cut, mostly by attrition, she said, but pointed out that retirements have taken much of the district’s veteran staff.

“It makes me feel bad to leave you with this. It’s going to be a very, very tough, tough budget,” she said.

When asked what individuals could do to address the issue, Tomandl said he encourages the public to get involved with the process now. He said it’s too late to make a difference by coming to the public hearing after the school board adopts a proposed budget.

“I would love to do a budget presentation and see the place packed,” he said.

Here are some of the spending areas Tomandl covered:

• OPERATIONS & MAINTENANCE: Total spending is set at $2.4 million, up from $2.37 million, which includes $20,000 for repaving a parking lot, an expense that was held from this year’s budget.

• INSTRUCTION (regular school): Total spending is anticipated at $8 million, up from $7.7 million. It includes nearly $300,000 in salary increases alone for 183 full time positions.

• TRANSPORTATION: $2.4 million, up from $2.2 million. Tomandl said the cost of insurance has doubled in this section because he transferred the cost from another section of the budget so it qualifies for state aid.

• EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: All areas of this section of the budget except the retirement incentive, will increase. The total spending here is $6.2 million, up from $5.6 million.

• DEBT SERVICE: At $4.85 million, principal and interest payments have gone up over $700,000. Some long term debt was refinanced last year to decrease some of this debt.

Budget presentations at upcoming board meetings are planned for:

Feb. 16: A second review of expenditures including an initial review of BOCES expenses.

March 9: A third review of all budget items, including BOCES

March 23: Final review of the expenditure budget and of the revenue budget

March 30: Adoption of a proposed budget by the board