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East Aurora, 6 other school districts in WNY fiscally stressed

The East Aurora School District is one of nine districts across the state in moderate fiscal stress, and six others in Western New York are susceptible to stress, according to a new report by the state comptroller's office.

East Aurora was listed as susceptible in 2015 but was not on the list last year.

The West Seneca School District has greatly improved its financial condition over the last year and is listed as susceptible to stress. It was on the list for being in significant stress the past three years.

Other area districts listed as susceptible to fiscal stress include Lake Shore and Niagara Wheatfield in Niagara County, Scio and Andover in Allegany County, and Ripley in Chautauqua County.

The listing was not a surprise, said East Aurora school business manager Paul Blowers. Fiscal problems have come from years of reduced state aid in the form of the gap elimination adjustment, frozen foundation aid, the tax cap and "skyrocketing costs" in special education, he said. And since the district is committed to its educational program, it has used fund balance and reserves to help balance the budgets, he said.

"Our highest priority is putting together a year where we are significantly less reliant on fund balance and reserves," Blowers said.

He said the district plans to present options and plans for next year's budget at the Feb. 1 School Board meeting. It probably will take one or two years to get off the state's fiscal stress list, Blowers said.

The monitoring system created by Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli uses financial indicators that include year-end fund balance, short-term borrowing and patterns of operating deficits, to create a score that classifies whether a district is in significant fiscal stress, in moderate fiscal stress, is susceptible to fiscal stress, or has no designation.

There are 59 districts designated as being fiscally stressed this year, compared to 82 last year. The scores are based on the evaluation of 671 school districts with fiscal years ending on June 30, 2016.

“Fiscal stress in many school districts has declined, especially for those in the most severe condition,” said DiNapoli. “School officials should be commended for working to keep their districts out of financial harm, but should be careful not to amass excessive levels of fund balance in order to do so."

Districts under fiscal stress were more likely to have high poverty, low graduation rates and low budget support than those that were not designated, the comptroller's office found.

Four of the 15 districts in the state that have been listed in some type of fiscal stress in each of the past four years are in Western New  York: West Seneca, Lake Shore, Niagara Wheatfield and Scio.

To check the fiscal stress score of a particular school district, go to the Fiscal Stress Monitoring System Search Tool on the state comptroller's website.

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