Highest state aid ever bolsters school district

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It’s not the best of times, but compared to the pandemic years, it’s not the worst of times either. That pretty much sums up the Granville Central School District’s budget preparations for the 2023-24 school year.

The Board of Education began its series of budget workshops on Monday, March 6, with business manager Cathy Somich laying out some general figures and specifics for transportation, maintenance and the cafeteria.

The best news is that for the first time, New York State, under Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposal will completely fund foundation aid, an increase of 13% over last year and the highest level of state aid in history. In real dollars that means 7% more for Granville or about $1.4 million.

Those extra dollars will come in handy, according to Somich, as inflation is raising havoc with the expenditure side of the spending plan, particularly fuel and the cost of food. These high prices are also scaring off some of the district’s usual vendors, as they fear they cannot be competitive at their current cost of goods.

Another pandemic side-effect is staffing across the board. Many instructors, staff and administration chose to retire or seek other employment over the past two years and filling these positions has been challenging, to say the least. Somich said New York is currently allowing retirees to return to work without any income restrictions that might affect their pensions. She hopes this will help.

Don’t expect big tax hike

Despite the inflationary pressure the school district is facing, Somich said she does not anticipate a large tax increase in the final budget proposal that will go before district voters in May. Under the complicated New York State tax cap formula, the board could raise the tax rate by 3.4%. Somich told those gathered at the workshop that she does not think such a hike will be necessary.

Electric vs diesel buses

Gov. Hochul had decreed that all school buses purchased beginning in 2027 must be electric. That is not sitting well with most upstate school districts. Cost is a major concern. According to Somich, an electric bus will currently set a district back $383,000. The cost of a diesel-powered vehicle can range from $90,000 to more than $200,000 depending on the size and condition.

Somich said the district plans to purchase two buses and one van in the coming year. She indicated there will be no need to bond for these vehicles, as with trade-in value, the cost can be covered within the budget.

The question brought up by board members: Would it be wise to purchase more vehicles now, as they cost less and there is a 90% state reimbursement? Perhaps, with the typical life of a bus being around 14 years, it would save the district from having to acquire electric buses for several years to come, possibly even beyond the 2027 mandate.

Another concern discussed was the range of distance for an electric bus. It is estimated to be about 175 miles between charges, however that figure could be reduced by cold weather. The range factor would not be a problem for most city and suburban districts, but for rural areas such as Granville and the Adirondack region, it certainly comes into play, particularly in the winter months.

While discussed for some time, no decision on whether to purchase more buses sooner than later was reached.

Local food is best

According to Somich, the state budget proposal also is pushing for schools to purchase as much locally grown food as possible, a sort of “made from scratch” approach. Not only is it often fresher, but it supports the local economy as well. As to supporting the cafeteria budget, Somich said despite the higher costs associated with food and personnel, the cafeteria’s budget is running a small surplus and she does not see a need at this time to dip into the general fund for support.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 27 at the high school library.