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Orchard Park’s proposed school budget calls for 1.5% spending increase

Orchard Park’s tentative $90.5 million school budget is 1.5 percent higher than last year and would raise taxes by 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

The revised budget proposal, presented this week and expected to be passed by the School Board on April 21, was calculated with a guess about what the state’s contribution will be.

Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey R. Petrus used the figure $22.1 million, a little more than 1 percent higher than last year.

“This is the first year where we did not get a state aid estimate,” said Petrus, who manages business and support services for the Orchard Park Central School District. “We really have gotten no guidance from the state at all. It’s been very difficult.”

As is the case for all school districts across New York, state aid levels are lower than what the district used to receive before the financial crisis, he said.

To explain the difference to the School Board in his presentation Tuesday night, Petrus showed a chart: In 2008, the $73.8 million school budget incorporated $24.6 million in state aid. Last year, the $89.1 million school budget had $21.89 million in state aid.

“We’re still not back to where we were,” Petrus said.

He and administrators have managed by drawing on the fund balance. Last year, they used $3.2 million from that account, and this year, they are planning to take $2.5 million.

“Now, we’re getting to dangerously low levels,” Petrus told the board.

The state allows the district to keep 4 percent of the budget, or a little less than $4 million, on reserve. Right now, the district is closer to 2 percent, or $2 million. “One surprise, and that could be gone,” he said. A bad roof leak, he said, could drastically lower the balance.

The proposed budget presented Tuesday was trimmed by $855,000 since its initial release last month. Increased costs include health insurance and two new English as a Second Language teachers, as required by the state.

About $500,000 was saved this year because 13 teachers retired and were replaced with teachers with less experience. A senior teacher makes about $90,000. Teachers at the beginning of their careers earn closer to $40,000.

About 80 percent of the budget goes to salary and benefits for the about 780 employees in the district, which has about 4,900 students.

Petrus also highlighted district efforts in the last decade to consolidate and trim costs, for about $4 million in savings:

• About $426,500 was trimmed in heating and electrical bills since 2006 because the district teamed with other districts and municipalities to buy energy. It also switched to more efficient boilers and lights, and personnel are encouraged to turn off unused lights and computers.

• Since 2013, a shared phone service with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Education Services cut the phone budget by $50,000

• The self-funded health insurance system, started four years ago, saves $2 million annually.

• Incentives to encourage employees to retire in 2012 has saved about $1.2 million each year since then.

• New terms negotiated for workers’ compensation and liability insurance last year cut the annual premiums by $150,000. Now, the district is working to build up its reserves and start a self-funded system similar to its health insurance. “Ultimately, we’ll be able to save a little bit more money,” Petrus said. “That’s our long-range plan.”

The school budget will be put to residents for a vote May 19.