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Holland schools ‘moving in the right direction’ on budget

A preliminary draft of the 2015-16 budget for the Holland Central School District revealed that the district has managed to turn around its tenuous financial picture at a time when bigger districts are struggling.

Business Official/Treasurer Laura N. Bosinski said last week that the district is projecting a $17.5 million budget that reduces expenses by $40,000. And though revenue is projected to decrease by $182,000, she said, the district doesn’t expect to cut programs or reduce staff.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Superintendent Cathy V. Fabiatos said. “We’re off the fiscal stress list. We really have been very conservative.”

Savings came from a new health insurance plan, reduced contributions rates for the teacher retirement system and Board of Cooperative Educational Services savings realized by no longer paying for students who will graduate, as well as from bringing some students back into district programs, Bosinski said.

Unlike last year, the district does not expect to exceed the tax cap estimated at 2 percent. The district needed a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters to approve last year’s spending plan – which called for almost no tax increases – because the tax cap was negative, meaning that it would have required Holland to actually cut taxes

Budget additions for 2015-16 include an increase of two “academic integration services” math teachers to help students who are behind, a technology integration specialist, a special-education teacher, teacher’s aides and special-education aides, if needed. It also calls for an increase in spending for buildings and grounds to address facility needs.

The improved financial outlook means the district also plans to reduce its reliance on the fund balance to prop up the budget, Bosinski said. In 2015-16, the district expects to use $500,000 of the fund balance – a third less than was budgeted for this year.

School Board member Judith A. Geer said, “It feels good to get out of a financial hole.”

The superintendent noted that nine years ago, the Holland school budget was $17.8 million, or just $300,000 higher than next year’s proposed spending plan.

In other matters, the board unanimously approved the creation of a community-based committee to review district facilities and a facilitator for that committee. The move is aimed at fostering a more constructive discussion about the district’s former middle school.

The board and the community have been locked in a bitter debate over the building on Partridge Road since a reorganization plan moved students out of the facility in 2012. Critics have called for the building to be reopened, while others contend that the district should sell the building and move on.