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Ken-Ton School District's financial outlook getting brighter

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District saw a precipitous drop in its fund balance, from $50 million in 2009 to about $25 million in the following five years, but Assistant Finance Director John J. Brucato told the School Board on Tuesday that their nest egg is getting bigger.

Brucato presented his forecast on finances for the 2018-19 budget to the School Board on Tuesday night, explaining that one the district's long-term goals is to stop balancing its budget with the reserve funds.

Contributions to the fund balance have been rising slowly in the past two years, and in the current $160 million budget, the fund balance was at $35 million, he said. He predicted it will continue to increase.

He said the district's school consolidations, which resulted in some school buildings being closed in 2016-17, was part of the reason. He said the other part was simple belt-tightening.

"We weren't sure exactly how much consolidation was going to save us, so we wanted to be prepared," he said. "We want to make sure we have funding available if a major taxpayer like Huntley (Power Station) closes its doors."

He said a mitigation fund created by the state to help municipalities hurt by power plant closures helped Ken-Ton survive the loss of $3 million in tax revenue due to the Huntley closing in 2016.

And while overall the outlook was positive, Brucato said there are some concerns, including an increase in the district's contribution to the teachers' pensions and a $1.9 million increase in debt payments on capital projects next year. He said he is also concerned about a projected $4 billion shortfall in state revenues, which could affect local school districts.

Board President Jill O'Malley said the district plans to ask state lawmakers to draft legislation that would provide districts with 50 percent of their funding from the state. Ken-Ton now gets 37 percent.

Superintendent Stephen Bovino said authorization to sell the Philip Sheridan building, at 3200 Elmwood Ave., is expected to go the voters in May and if approved, it will tentatively be sold in the fall or summer. The Board of Education, which meets in the building, will be moving to Kenmore Middle School as early as next month.

A facilities committee will discuss the building sale before it goes to voters. Board member Thomas Reigstad said he had some concerns about he loss of the playground and fields, which Brucato said are used mostly by parochial school students.

Budget workshops begin in February and a final budget is scheduled to be adopted by the board in April. The public will vote on the budget May 15.

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