Three local school districts were on the statewide list of 87 schools cited Monday in state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s fiscal-stress monitoring report. DiNapoli’s office evaluated 674 schools for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.
No local schools were on the “significant stress” list, that included 12 statewide, with scores of 65 percent or more. The listing is based on data submitted by the schools to the Department of Education. Using financial indicators that included year-end fund balances, cash positions and patterns of operating deficits, the system creates an overall fiscal-stress score that classifies each district, according to a media release from the comptroller’s office.
Unatego and Walton Central schools were on the “moderate stress” list, with scores of 45 percent or more. The “moderate stress” list included 23 schools statewide. Richfield Springs Central School was on the list of “susceptible to fiscal stress,” with a score of 25 percent or greater. That list totaled 52 schools.
Unatego Central School had a ranking of 51.7 percent. Its business manager, Nicholas Rosas, said that he hadn’t yet seen the rankings, with school closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. But he said that with cutbacks to state aid for the last several years, he agreed with the overall findings. Although the district has cut staff in the last several years and reconfigured its buildings, “we are about as lean as we can be,” he said.
A recent shared-services study with Sidney Central School was an effort to continue to look for savings, he said. But if the state phases out its so-called “gap elimination adjustment” of school aid, which reduces actual district aid to close the state budget deficit, and fully funds foundation aid (a category of state funding) that would help, he said.
Walton Central School had a ranking of 48.3 percent. Superintendent Roger B. Clough said when he started with the district last summer, he knew it faced fiscal issues. The score is a snapshot based of the 2012-13 budget and doesn’t reflect the current spending plan, he said.
Since he began, the board of education and business manager have “rectified many budgetary issues that have put us in better financial shape,” he said.
“This is not to say that we don’t continue to face some serious fiscal challenges, along with many other school districts across the state.” He was hopeful that this report will allow Gov. Andrew Cuomo to realize “there are a lot of districts in crisis.” He was hopeful there would be more state aid this year to allow the district to stabilize what they have, to avoid further cutbacks.
Richfield Springs Central School scored 28.3 percent. A home number for its superintendent could not be located so no comment was available.
“School districts are a critical barometer to the fiscal health of our local communities,” DiNapoli said in explaining the list. “Unfortunately, reductions in state aid, a cap on local revenue and decreased rainy day funds are creating financial challenges that more and more school districts are having trouble overcoming. My office’s fiscal stress scores highlight the need for school district officials to manage their finances carefully with an eye towards long-range planning and how they can operate more efficiently.”State 'fiscal stress' scoring 65 percent or higher -- 'Significant stress' 51.7 percent -- Unatego Central School 48.3 percent -- Walton Central School 28.3 percent -- Richfield Springs Central School 25 percent -- 'Moderate stress'