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District overview given at forum

From the SKANEATELES JOURNAL | Residents heard an overview Wednesday of the school district’s fiscal position and how it plans to build the 2016-17 budget.
In the Waterman Elementary auditorium, Superintendent Kenneth Slentz spoke to approximately 50 taxpayers at the first of three community forums.
Earlier this month, he said, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his proposed education budget. It referenced a $2 billion allocation to schools, plus introduced new state aid categories.
“That is not accurate,” Slentz said. “It’s not untrue, but it’s not accurate.”
Describing Cuomo’s projection as “misleading” and as a “two-year” figure, Slentz explained the governor’s plan includes monies already owed to schools via expense-based aid. The model that reimburses schools for monies spent on “aidable” projects.
Last year, for example, the district spent $100,000 on a building maintenance project, for which it receives 63 percent back from the state. The district will realize that money this year.
Because the state Legislature has yet to approve the governor’s budget, Slentz said the district will mete out expense and revenue budgets in coming weeks once Albany’s numbers solidify and become more reliable.
In the meantime the district will prepare for the budget by turning to the mission to ground the school board’s budgetary decisions and actions.
The mission’s critical points demand the district be responsible for providing successful learning experiences for all Lakers. That faculty strives to know how best to serve each student’s learning style and provide various pathways toward college or workforce readiness. Plus, maintain an emphasis of high expectations that challenge and motivate students and faculty.
Despite a 96 percent graduation rate in 2015, the district needs to attend to the 4 percent of non-graduates, Slentz said.
“What did we miss,” he said. “What can we do better?”
Maximizing the district’s return on its investment in instruction, facilities and personnel with relationship to the budget keeps the district aligned with prudent business practices, he said.
Slentz updated attendees on state audits conducted by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in the last two years. The state surmised Skaneaeteles was in danger of moderate to low susceptibility of negative financial exposure. DiNapoli didn’t find any illegalities, but rather systemic accounting practices requiring improvement. By way of mandated corrective measures, including a realignment of personnel and updated technical assistance, the district is now out of danger, Slentz said.
The district can anticipate more efficient use of funds due to a rethinking of replacement schedules for its buses, vehicle fleet and equipment. Instead of owning these items for 10 years and incurring maintenance costs on the aging items, the district will replace them every five years to maximize warranties and resale value.
Attendees also learned about the district’s six reserve funds established to assist in keeping the overall budget “predictable and smooth,” Slentz said.
The turf reserve fund, for example, boasts a $225,000 balance. When the time comes to replace the turf surface, at an estimated cost of as much as $750,000, a hefty portion of which qualifies for state aid, the reserve fund can cover the balance, he said, “with no impact on the taxpayer.”
With input from its various advisory panels, such as the strategic planning committee, the district will continue evaluating building needs relative to declining enrollment. Aging infrastructure and outdated building features must be managed.
“We cannot let repairs go unattended,” Slentz said. “Or we risk loss of value.”
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Lynda Quick
45 East Elizabeth Street
Skaneateles, NY 13152