Community Budget Message
May 14, 2020 Budget Meeting
April 16, 2020 Budget Meeting
March 11, 2020 Budget Meeting
March 5, 2020 Budget Meeting
February 27, 2020 Budget Workshop
February 13, 2020 Budget Meeting
January 30, 2020 Budget Workshop
Budget Hearing: May 27, 2020
This week marks the beginning of my fourth month as Superintendent of the Victor Central School District (VCSD) and I continue to be amazed at the caliber of students and staff that we have in our community!
As we continue to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, our District also faces a challenging budget situation.
Specifically, our District has experienced tremendous growth over the past 15 years and funding has not kept pace with this growth. Our District ranks in the bottom quartile of school districts in New York State for State Aid (funding) received. This has led Victor to have the lowest per pupil expenditure of any school district in New York State as referenced by NY State Comptroller data, along with the lowest tax rate of any district of comparable size in the area.
Lack of funding has impacted staffing ratios throughout the District. For example, VCSD spends the least amount of money on instructional staffing as compared to Rochester area schools with more than 1500 students. VCSD is also significantly understaffed in mental health support, safety and security, curriculum, cleaning and maintenance, and technology. These shortages have become further evident in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Despite the impact of our revenue shortage on our staffing, our District is widely considered to be one of the best school districts in the state. This is, no doubt, a tribute to our students, staff and community, but going forward, it will take much more than tenacity to maintain this exemplary status. In order for our District to continue on a path of success, it is critically important that we examine ways to increase revenue to maintain the excellence for which the District is known.
To that end, our Board of Education has adopted a budget that exceeds the tax cap for the 2020-21 school year.
The specific amounts are detailed in this budget newsletter. Three important points:
- The proposed budget to budget increase is less than the previous year’s increase.
- We are only adding a small number of positions in special education, English Language Learners (ELL) and high school counseling. The vast majority of the override is to keep existing positions and to not dip into our already critically low savings.
- Even after this tax cap override, we anticipate the Victor Central School District will continue to have the lowest per pupil expenditure and the lowest tax rate of any school district of similar size in the area.
As a District, we deeply value the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. This is not a decision which we take lightly, especially with the knowledge that many of you are suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. If we do not exceed the tax cap, we will be forced to make more than $3 million in reductions, impacting secondary course offerings, art and music at the elementary level, enrichment experiences, class sizes, athletic opportunities, co-curricular experiences and possibly pre-school. This will drastically change the way we educate our children in our District.
I encourage you to review the information in this newsletter and ask questions. Knowledge is power, and the more informed our community is the better. The Board-approved budget will be put in front of VCS voters with mail in ballots due by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Budget passage will require a supermajority approval of 60% or more.
Additional budget-related information can be found on our website, victorschools.org.
Please reach out to me via email or phone if you have any questions.
- Last Minute Reminders
- A note from the Director of the Victor Farmington Library.
- Ballot Counting Process
The Governor has issued an Executive Order extending the deadline for mail in ballots to be delivered to the District Office by June 16th by 5:00 PM. Other specifics of this order include:
Hand delivered ballots are still due to the District Office by 5:00 PM tomorrow (Tuesday June 9th). After 5:00 PM June 9th the lock box will be removed; the only ballots that will be accepted are those delivered by mail and they must arrive by 5:00 PM on June 16th.
There will be no distribution of new ballots to registered voters after 5:00 PM tomorrow (June 9th).
The canvassing of ballots and subsequent counting of ballots will take place starting after 5:00 PM on June 16th.
“The Victor Farmington Library is an independently operated library, and therefore is not a department of the Towns of Victor or Farmington, nor a section of the Victor Central School District. The library is its own taxing authority, and New York State law requires our school district to hold our referendums and collect our taxes for us. The school district has the option of when to hold the library referendum, and has chosen to hold it during its own vote to save the district money as opposed to a separate and unique time. While the library budget vote may appear on the school district ballot, it is in no way affiliated with the school or its own budget vote.”
Education Law provides that an envelope containing a returned absentee ballot is not to be opened until a determination is made that there is no reason for rejecting the ballot, which could happen if, for example, the voter fails to provide the signature required by law to appear on the envelope containing the ballot. Once such a determination is made and the envelope opened, the ballot is withdrawn without unfolding and deposited into the proper ballot box. As a result, at the time of counting, the ballots will not be linked to the envelope in which they were returned which preserves confidentiality. Absentee ballots must remain folded until they are actually counted.
The VCS community is an integral part of our budget building process. Your questions and comments are vital to helping us make the best decisions for our school community. Do you have a budget question or comment that hasn't already been answered on this page? If so, please reach out to us at VCSbudget@victorschools.org.
- STATEMENT ON STAR EXEMPTION VS PROPERTY TAX RELIEF CREDIT
- Why Do We Need to Exceed the Tax Cap?
- Why Are You Exceeding the Cap Now During an Economic Crisis?
- What Do We Keep if We Exceed The Cap?
- Consequences of An Unsuccessful Budget?
- Per Pupil Expenditure
- What Makes Up Our Revenue?
- Property Tax Revenue
- New York State Aid
- Enrollment, Taxes and State Funding
- Mandated Spending
- Retirement Incentives
- Future Budgets
The STAR Exemption is a permanent exemption set forth in the law (Real Property Tax Law 425) that is not impacted by a School District overriding the tax cap. The Property Tax Relief Credit Program was a temporary 4-year program (which was not renewed this year) which provided additional relief to homeowners based on certain eligibility requirements. One eligibility requirement for this expired program was that the homeowner live in a school district that is complying with the New York State property tax cap.
The School Tax Relief (STAR) exemption (Real Property Tax Law Section 425) provides a partial exemption from school taxes for most owner-occupied, primary residences. It was signed it into law on August 7, 1997. The eligibility requirements are set forth in Real Property Tax Law Section 425(3) (attached), and are as follows:
- Homeowner has an income of $500,000 or less,
- who own and live in their one-, two or three-family home
Property Tax Relief Credit
The Property Tax Relief Credit, which expired this year, was approved for four years by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to reimburse middle-class homeowners for a portion of their school taxes based on their household income. The initiative provided tax credits to individuals who meet the following eligibility requirements:
- live in a school district that is complying with the New York State property tax cap
- receive either the Basic or Enhanced STAR exemption or credit,
- have an income of $275,000 or less, and
- have paid school property taxes for the applicable year.
The credit expired as of this year and was not renewed in the 2020 New York State Budget.
- To maintain existing staff while adding 6 mandated positions in order to support a comprehensive educational program similar to surrounding districts
- To maintain jobs in a community where many in the community rely on these jobs while others are losing them
- This adopted budget does not address needs in multiple understaffed areas because of concern over the economic situation of the community. We will strategically move forward with a plan to address needs in the district as well as advocate with the state and county to lessen the reliance on taxes as revenue.
- Larger Class Sizes K-12
- Curriculum and Instructional Development and Oversight Reduced
- Athletics Offerings Reduced (Modified Sports and Aquatics)
- Administrative Services Reduced
- Co-Curricular Clubs Eliminated (DECA, Robotics, Musicals, etc)
- Elementary Enrichment Programs Eliminated
- Afternoon Activity Bus Runs Reduced
- Elementary Art and Music Reduced (Suzuki Strings Program)
- Secondary Course Offerings Reduced (Advanced Placement Courses and Electives)
- Potential Reduction of Pre-K Offerings
- Instructional & Support Staff Layoffs (25+ people)
Q: What is the cost Per Pupil Expense for a VCS Education?
A: Thank you for your inquiry. The most recent comparable statewide data is from the comptroller’s office. It demonstrates that Victor Central Schools spends the least dollars per student in the State at roughly $16,500 per student. This is comparable to an average of more than $20,000 per student for Monroe County schools, and roughly $25,000 per student statewide.
Q: What is the impact of property tax revenue on the District’s budget and how might new building affect it?
A: The District's current operating budget is $73.7 million and the property tax levy is $45.9 million. That means property taxes account for 62% of the Districts operating revenue, the remainder is mostly comprised of state aid funding.
The current true tax rate for the District is $15.90 per thousand dollars of assessed home value. Therefore the tax bill for a homeowner that would contribute to to that $45.9 million will be dependent upon the assessed value of their property. For example, if a homeowner has a property assessed at $200,000, the computation of their bill would be 200x$15.90. The average tax rate of all of the Districts in Monroe County is about $24 per thousand, with the lowest of those comparable rates above $20 per thousand. As new properties are built in the District, their owners will pay a proportional share of that $45.9 million dollar levy. The tax rate is a formula with the tax levy as the numerator, and the assessed value of all properties in the District as the denominator. The State’s tax levy law limits the growth of the levy (numerator) while the new property development has added assessed value to the total property value within the District (denominator). As a result of this development, the tax rate has decreased as there are more individuals paying into a funding pool with a finite limit upon it. The embedded chart shows how this relationship has developed since 2003.
Q: Why does Victor receive among the lowest amounts of New York State Aid?
A: In 2007 the State's "Foundation Aid" formula was created as a result of a group called "the Campaign for Fiscal Equity" successfully challenging the State's mechanism for school funding in the NYS Court of Appeals. The ruling ordered the State to fund schools based upon student need. This formula is designed to reflect several factors, including the number of students in a school district, the District's assessed property values, income levels within the District, and many other indicators of resources within the District. In 2008 that formula was frozen due to the financial crisis, and the State withheld aid funding from schools in order to close its budget deficit. Since that time, the formula has not been fully implemented.
In the past decade, Victor's enrollment has increased over 12% but as a result of that formula not being implemented, the District is receiving state aid proportional to its enrollment as of 2007. As the majority of the Districts that surround Victor have seen enrollment declines anywhere from 6%-20%, they continue to receive state aid based upon their initial enrollment. Ultimately, as many new students moved into the District, the aid intended to fund their education did not move with them because the State's formula was not fully implemented. For example, this school year the District is receiving roughly $12.25 million in State aid, whereas the Formula calculation for what the District should receive based upon its current enrollment is over $20 million. This website is a good resource for explaining this chain of events https://www.aqeny.org/equity/. State Aid currently comprises 31% of the District’s revenue.
Q: Has there been any consideration to any of the following:
Reduction/elimination of Teachers on Special Assignments
Reduction/elimination of Administration Internships
Reduction/elimination of Content Area Coaches
Reduction/elimination in other administration/non-teaching roles?
A: There has been consideration given to each of these options (absent administrative internships which we do not fund). One of the challenges we face is that we do not have any "middle level" administrators that oversee curriculum and instruction. Victor has the lowest administrative staffing ratio (meaning fewest) per pupil of any District in the Rochester area. As a result, curriculum planning and development is overseen by the few content area coaches we do have. It is the belief of our administrative team that eliminating virtually all oversight of curriculum and instruction would jeopardize the viability of our educational program.
Q: Has there been consideration to increase in class sizes/department cuts (reduce electives offered or only offer them every other year to rotate what electives are offered)?
A: Yes. The District currently employs the practice of rotating elective offerings to achieve efficiencies where possible. VCS class sizes district-wide are already in the bottom quartile of the Rochester area. The District's teacher:student ratio is 20th out of 21 comparable suburban districts in the region. Further staffing reductions would result in the largest class sizes and highest teacher:student in the region, which would only address our budget deficit for one year before further reductions would be needed.
Q: I know many districts have reduced department expenses ($150 per teacher for supplies). Is this a possibility?
A: Departmental purchasing of supplies and materials is closely monitored and the District utilizes purchasing cooperatives to ensure the best possible procurement prices available. Last year's total expenditure for educational supplies and materials was roughly $370,000. That equates to less than $100 per teacher. Further constraint in this area is unlikely to have a material impact upon our financial situation, but it continues to be an area that is monitored closely by the purchasing agent.
Q: Limits have been placed on how many copies can be made per year per teacher. Have you taken this in consideration?
A: The District does utilize network print monitoring and addresses excessive printing on a case-by-case basis. However, the total budget for copy paper and toner is less than 0.2% of our total operating budget so this offers limited cost avoidance.
Q: Has there been any consideration for reductions in conference expenses. Eliminate the ones that are over a certain dollar amount.
A: Staff are encouraged to make use of local conferences wherever practicable. The system the District utilizes for conference requests promotes staff development offerings that are aidable as a BOCES service, which helps the District recover a portion of the conference cost. Conferences that require any lodging expenses are treated with strict scrutiny. We cannot eliminate all conference attendance as we believe that would be detrimental to the performance of our staff in providing the highest quality instruction possible to students and it may also impact certain State credentials that require a minimum amount of professional development.
Q: Have we put controls on heating/cooling?
A: Yes. We have recently completed a comprehensive energy performance capital project that has already reduced our energy costs by roughly 15% this year. We have captured NYSERDA rebates as a source of revenue in relation to this project in addition to state building aid. We also utilize programmed logic to ensure spaces like gymnasiums and auditoriums are only being climate controlled during normal hours of use.
Q: Have we considered combining JV and Modified sports?
A: The elimination of modified sports (and all extracurricular clubs/musicals) would be a necessity if the District were to remain under the tax cap. In comparison to other Districts of VCS enrollment, athletic expenditures are low as booster clubs continue to supplement some of our equipment purchase activity, for which we are extremely grateful.
In summary, we agree with the perspective that the District needs to continue seeking efficiency wherever possible. Unfortunately, we do not believe our current budget challenge can be resolved by efficiencies alone. We are proud that our students continue to demonstrate outstanding achievement while our per-pupil expense is the lowest in the state. VCS is in a unique situation as one of the few districts in the state to experience growing enrollment. The state's foundation formula for aid calculates an amount due for VCS of $20 million based upon our 2019 enrollment, yet this year the state has funded $12.5 million of that amount due to the freeze in the formula dating back to 2008. The District has been able to supplement this constraint on revenue up to this point, but continuing to do so is no longer sustainable
Q: Why not look into cutting expenses?
A: We are certainly mindful of the necessity that we be good stewards of public funds. Budgeting for a school district is a fine balance of recognizing efficiencies while continuing to offer a high quality public education.
We're proud to be recognized by Buffalo Business First as the most cost effective District in Upstate New York. We also demonstrate the lowest spending per student in the entire state. Unfortunately, due to the lack of funding of the state's Foundation Aid formula despite added mandates, and the lowest tax rate of any suburban district in the Monroe/Finger-Lakes region, we may no longer be able to sustain what is already the most cost effective educational program in Upstate New York. Our administrative team and Board of Education believe that further reductions to our program would damage the viability of our educational programming.
Q: What do we have in reserves that we can use to supplement this astronomical increase to the tax payers (I know districts have used reserves to off-set budgets in the past)?
A: One of the simplest metrics for financial health of a school district is the percentage of its budget held in restricted fund balance (reserves). The District anticipates it will end this year with approximately $4 million in restricted reserves. This constitutes roughly 5% of our operating budget.
In contrast, the District ended the 2012-2013 school year with nearly $8 million in reserves (roughly 14% of budget at that time). The District has utilized reserve funds consistently over the past decade to support programs. With the current balances the District is at risk of beginning to receive points for low fund balance in the Comptroller’s “fiscal stress monitoring system.” Additionally, bond rating agencies such as Standards & Poors or Moody's may downgrade the District's credit rating which would create larger interest expenses. As a comparison, the average reserve balance for Monroe county schools is about 20% of budget, and Standard & Poors has indicated their data supports that districts of our enrollment and population size would be expected to carry a reserve balance of approximately 16%, which would be nearly $12 million for Victor.
These reserves allow the District to insulate itself from economic stressors, of which the COVID crisis is a prime example. In good times, a District can leverage its capital reserves to purchase buses or fund capital improvements on a cash basis rather than issuing bonded debt for these costs, saving tax-payers borrowing costs and interest expenses. Unfortunately, the District’s year-to-year budgeting practices have limited its ability to strategically build such reserves for these intended purposes.
The Board of Education has adopted a reserve fund plan that articulates the legal authority of each reserve and its intended use, as well as budgeting principles for long-term stability.
Q: If the district was to only replenish the reserve fund to say 10% vs the 16-19% number that has been mentioned multiple times, how much of a savings could that offer to the entire budget? What does every 1% cost?
A: The 16-19% number is a future target and could not be accomplished through one budget cycle. Last year the District ended with available funds of less than 1% of the operating budget, which was approximately $500,000. The current operating budget is $73,732,603, so 1% of that budget equates to $737,326. The Districts reserve plan sets a targeted variance within the budget of 3%, which may or may not be realized in any given fiscal year. As the current reserve balance is projected to be roughly 4% of operating budget, and the target balance is 16% as established by peer group and credit rating agency comparisons, that would mean the District is 12% (approximately $8,850,000) short of that target. As the long-term forecast would demonstrate expenses growing at a faster rate than revenues, it would take 4 years of "best case" scenarios (increases in state aid and reduced expense growth) for the District to reach its plan targets, which is not likely given the economic variables at play.
Q: Could you provide me with more information regarding your requested budget increase? I'd like to know how many kids are currently enrolled in the Victor School District, and how much tax money has been collected from the school district for the past couple of years, as well as how much state funding you have received over the same period
Do you have a justification for the additional funding? Do you have required spending that is not covered by the current taxation? If you have that proposal, I would also like to see a copy of that.
A: One of the challenges facing the District is the state has frozen the formula it created to fund school Districts based upon their enrollment. As Victor's enrollment has increased 12% over the past decade, our level of state funding is still based upon our initial enrollment prior to that growth. This website is a good resource for explaining this chain of events related to Foundation Aid https://www.aqeny.org/equity/ .Your questions regarding tax and state aid funding can be answered by the chart below, and the amount of aid the District has not received is highlighted.
During that time frame the development taking place in Victor has also led to a reduction in the tax rate as the rate of property growth has exceeded the rate of increases in the District's tax levy. As a result, the District's tax rate is substantially less than any comparable suburban district in the area, so much so that our budget proposal would not alter that relationship. We are proud to be ranked by Buffalo Business First as the most cost effective district in Upstate New York, and we have the lowest per student expense in the entire state.
Q: Do you have required spending that is not covered by the current taxation?
A: The unfortunate answer is yes. In order to fund these programs the District has been utilizing reserve balances to supplement its shortage of revenues. That practice can no longer be sustained. The District will end this year with approximately $3.8 million in restricted reserves, which is roughly 5% of our operating budget. This is in contrast to $6.8 million in restricted reserves (roughly 10% of budget) in 2015, just 5 years ago. With the current balances the District is at risk of being categorized as "fiscally stressed" by the Comptroller's office. Additionally, bond rating agencies such as Standards & Poors or Moody's may downgrade the District's credit rating which would create larger interest expenses. As a comparison, the average reserve balance for Monroe county schools is about 20% of budget, and Standard & Poors has indicated that a median district of our enrollment and population size would carry a reserve balance of 16%. As such, the use of reserves as a funding source for operations has become untenable. During that time the tax rate has declined from $16.48 to $15.90.
Q: Has there been any consideration to an early retirement offering/incentive to help lower the salary expense?
A: Yes. "Breakage" for salary reduction of 9 staff members is recognized already in the budget moving forward and the District does offer an early retirement incentive. The differential between the departing employee and the newly hired employee must also take into account the cost of the retirement incentive as well as the new health care contract of the retiring employee. With those factors in consideration with the number of retirement eligible individuals within the District, additional incentives would not be an effective measure in closing the budget gap.
Q: What are preliminary proposed increases for future budgets, I.E. 2021 - 2023?
A: While we do recognize the value of long term forecasting using the best data available, we do not believe it is prudent to project forward budget-to-budget increases beyond the coming fiscal year. As current events demonstrate, there are a number of variables that can substantially alter these projections.