Clymer School Board Weighs Its Options

CLYMER — All options are on the table, but not all are applicable for the 2019-20 school year in the Clymer Central School District.

During a budget workshop on Wednesday, board members met to discuss the current financial outlook. The Clymer School Board was met by Louann Bahgat, business manager, and Superintendent Ed Bailey. Members from the community and members of the financial focus group that was created in September sat in on the meeting as well.

Bahgat informed the board that the state allowed property tax cap for the 2019-20 school budget is 4 percent. The tax cap is the percentage a school district can raise its tax levy without a super majority voter rating of 60 percent. Last year, Clymer’s cap was around 2 percent.

In order to continue operations without cuts, those gathered at the budget workshop agreed a tax increase would be needed that would exceed the cap without making program or position cuts. Bailey again maintained that a tax increase similar to what the board asked for last year would be proposed again.

Last year, the 2018-19 school budget vote in May that proposed a 13 percent tax levy increase exceeding the tax cap that required a super majority approval rating of 60 percent was voted down by the public. The first vote failed to receive a 60 percent approval with district residents voting 238 to 237. Upon the revote in June, the board proposed a school budget with a flat tax levy that district residents approved by a vote of 325 to 111.

The total budget remained the same as the previous proposal at $11,561,554, but the new proposed tax levy of $4,283,832 was decreased by $357,192, the initial amount over the state-allowed tax cap of 4 percent. The total 2018-19 budget is up 2.4 percent from the 2017-18 school year.

Even with the 4 percent increase accounted for, the district would still be in a shortfall of an estimated $800,000 without considering any potential fund balance appropriations that could be used to offset the budget. Bailey and Bahgat said significant savings were made during the current school year that will potentially give the district a boosted fund balance to use.

“What’s going to be really important for us is what our bottom line is and what we saved this year from (the 2018-19 school budget),” Bailey said. “It’s one piece of good news that we’ll have. It may be considerably more than what people think.”

Bailey said it was too early to tell what the final dollar amount saved would be as it is only February. But he maintained it will be “considerable savings.”

The board agreed that if the the future 2019-20 school budget proposal, that features a tax levy increase above the cap, is denied by voters as it was last year, programs and positions are in jeopardy of being cut.

Numerous scenarios were discussed by board members during the workshop Wednesday. Bailey emphasized that while different factors and actions were talked about, no action was taken. Bailey did, however, tell The Post-Journal that if the aforementioned budget is voted down, the district will have no other options than to cut non-mandated costs.

A few scenarios discussed by the board are not feasible for the next school year such as considering any potential merger, tuitioning of students, use of contractors for transportation or food services. Bailey reiterated while drastic scenarios were discussed, only situations that involved cutting programs or positions are seriously being considered for a plan-b budget proposal, should the plan-a budget proposal fail when offered to district voters.

Board Member Ed Mulkearn often said that all options need to be considered going forward during the workshop.

Another budget workshop will be held on Feb. 27, when Bahgat said the district will have a better understanding of the budget outlook.

The financial focus group created earlier this school year will meet next week as well and is scheduled to give a financial presentation to the board on March 11 that will outline a 5-year financial plan. The group is comprised of several board members and community leaders throughout Clymer earlier this school year in order to gather community input. The group began meeting this year in closed meetings.

Bailey previously said the goal of the group was to better educate the community on why the district will most likely ask for a tax levy increase.