Panama Central School Officials Propose Small Spending Cut

PANAMA — Panama Central School officials are planning a 0.27% spending decrease while still replacing a bus as part of the district’s latest 2020-21 budget proposal.

The latest iteration of the budget discussed this week would spend $12,869,572, a decrease of $34,824, or 0.27%, from the 2019-20 school budget. It is expected the board will have a special meeting on Monday, May 18, to formally approve the budget. Amanda Kolstee, district treasurer, did not have a tax levy amount or tax rate for the spending plan yet as she waits for state aid reduction amounts to be finalized from the state. That information will be ready for the May 18 special meeting.

A special meeting is necessary to approve the budget and state-required School Property Tax Report Card in time for a public hearing to be scheduled and for absentee ballots to be sent to district voters in time.

In addition to the general state aid cut expected by rebalancing the state budget from a revenue decrease of $10 billion to $15 billion from the COVID-19 business shutdown, the district has been finalizing how much aid will be expected when factoring in the state’s aid takeback resulting from a late final cost report for a building project.

Kolstee said state officials told her to expect an aid takeback in June and August, but Kolstee said it has been difficult to figure out exact amounts because of the state’s uneven prior practices. Panama was assessed a $4.9 million penalty as a result of a late final cost report from a 2005 capital project.

“I did receive an email from (the state Education Department) and what they plan on taking back from June 2020, they did not deduct anything in March of 2020 due to late processing on their side. They said we can anticipate a deduction of around $160,000 from our June payment and another deduction in August that will be reflected in this year’s designated amount.”

The state Legislature has passed legislation to forgive the fine in each of the last three legislative sessions, only to have the measure vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

State Education Department officials and state legislators who are part of a joint budget committee hearing earlier this year agreed that the state should forgive the fines, but that has not taken place in time for 2020-21 school budget talks. The school’s proposed budget, as it stands, is not impacted by the aid withholding.

“Part of it they’re not being as helpful as they could be with time limits and clear communication,” said Bert Lictus, district superintendent. The other part is with the numbers Amanda (Kolstee) has applied to this, something we can feel good about is this is taking into account their aid withholding for the final cost penalty. When people are concerned, and we’re all concerned, on their deduction of this money and how it impacts us, this budget that we’re proposing with the revenue plan takes into account their withholding of aid for our final cost report.”

Other than the state aid amount, one of the few moving parts left in the budget is the purchase of a bus. The district is to spend about $61,100 for a new 66-passenger bus. The low purchase cost is due to trading in four old buses at a combined value of $69,500.

“That’s based on a quote they had given us on the trade before,” Lictus said. “If we don’t go ahead with it this year, next year the value of those is going to be, because of the bus purchasing or the projected purchasing cycle this year, will drive down the cost of the trades next year. This is a quote they had given us. One, it’s a good quote. And two, it is a heck of a lot better than we’re projecting next year’s trade allowances to be.”

Board member Carrie Munsee asked if district administrators are planning to buy more iPads for students in case some come back broken or at the end of their expected service life.

Emily Harvey, director of instruction and special education, said Brynne Hinsdale, director of technology, is optimistic that few of the units will have to be replaced as part of the 2020-21 budget.

“She did account for what she was planning on replacing next year anyway because there were some that needed to be replaced,” Harvey said. “That is in her planned budget and she’s being cautiously optimistic. There is also the possibility with the rural schools grant that we could purchase, if we needed to, additional iPads, we could use that grant to do so.”


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