Need a pick me up?
Then stop reading. The budget discussion during Tuesday’s Peekskill school board meeting was anything but upbeat.
“There is no good news,” James Willis, Peekskill’s superintendent of schools, said Tuesday.
Willis said the district was looking at a budget gap of about $700,000 heading into this year. But with rising pension costs, dwindling fund balance reserves and other factors, Willis said that budget gap has widened.
“There are a number of things that you won’t see because we don’t have the numbers yet,” Willis said.
Willis said district officials are hopeful that Gov. Andrew Cuomo increases state aid by 4 percent, which is 1 percent more than district officials were counting on. Even if school aid is increased by 4 percent statewide, Willis said there are still questions as to how those funds get divvied up among school districts.
“We don’t know that,” Willis said. “We’ll see that by the end of the month.”
There are also questions regarding health care costs and whatever revenue making proposals that come through BOCES.
Joseph Mosey, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said he touched base with Father John Higgins of the Assumption School in Peekskill Monday. Although the Catholic Archdiocese has yet to make an official announcement, Higgins told Mosey that the school is likely closing at the end of this school year.
There are about 200 students currently enrolled at the Assumption School.
“We have to figure out what that cost is going to be,” Willis said.
Willis also said the district had to figure out the costs associated with the vacant Uriah Hill building, which will likely have to be opened due to overcrowding as some the district’s other schools. Willis is also hopeful that the district will get Medicaid reimbursements for its special-needs students.
Gregory Sullivan, superintendent of Peekskill schools, said the school district might be looking at a more than $930,000 pension increases alone. He also warned that the district risked depleting its fund balance if expenditures aren’t restructured or new revenue sources aren’t found.
Willis said spending in the district has already been frozen and that he reviews every expenditure request that’s made.
“We’re not focusing on cuts at this point in time because it’s too early to do that,” Willis said. “We don’t know enough of the picture yet.”
Willis added that district staffing is already barebones and that it will be difficult to find any additional cuts.
"We can't afford to cut anymore staff with the way we deliver education today," Willis said.
Joseph Urbanowicz, president of the Peekskill school board, said the district needed to begin coming up with a list of best and worst case scenarios to present to the public.
“If the best case scenario, let’s say we get a $1 million [budget] gap, we've got to get right to work on that as a board,” Urbanowicz said. “We need to start thinking about what that process is going to look like.”
Urbanowicz suggested that the district start communicating with employees and the community to start looking for solutions. He added that the board only has until April 16 before it has to approve a budget.
“That’s two months away,” Urbanowicz said.