Earlier this school year, the Baldwin School District was faced with a $4.5 million deficit because of the coronavirus pandemic. With additional aid coming from the federal government, the proposed 2021-22 budget is now balanced.
The Baldwin Board of Education hosted a public hearing on the roughly $142.4 million spending plan on May 5, although no one from the public asked any questions.
Dr. James Robinson, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, reviewed the proposed budget, which represents an increase of about $4 million over the current year’s budget.
The tax levy, or the amount the district needs to raise through property taxes, is about $99.9 million, an increase of about $1.7 million over the current tax levy. The rest of the revenue for the district — about $42.4 million — will come from state aid, reserves, payments in lieu of taxes, the appropriated fund balance and other miscellaneous income.
Robinson ex-plained that the budget process looks at revenue and expenses on a multi-year basis, adding that, this year especially, “it was just critical for us to really create a sustainable plan moving forward.”
“We really looked at where we were, where we are currently and then, certainly, where we need to go, given the initiatives and the objectives and the vision from the board and the superintendent and the needs of our programs,” Robinson said.
The district was dealing with $4.5 million in unanticipated expenses for its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including desk barriers and room dividers, disposable protective gear, thermometers, hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting supplies and equipment, face masks and shields, furniture, and outdoor learning areas, bottle filling stations, storage spaces, Covid-related signage, Chromebooks and laptops, materials for remote learning, classroom cameras, additional teaching staff, additional cleaning staff and emergency childcare.
“Those were unanticipated expenses that were required of us in order for us to open up our schools safely this past September,” Robinson said.
Federal funding assistance came to the district in two parts — the Coronavirus Relief and Recovery Supplemental Appropriations Act, in December, and, more recently, the American Rescue Plan. The first round, which was slated for elementary and secondary school emergency relief, was about $4.3 million. The second round was about $5.1 million.
“These numbers are estimated, and we don’t have the money yet,” Robinson explained. “It’s not literally in our accounts, so we look at this as a forecast.”
It’s also likely the district would have to apply for these funds, and there are conditions related to what the funds could be used for.
“The funding coming in will be accounted for as grants in aid — it’s through a special aid fund — so it doesn’t really impact our general fund from a budgetary standpoint,” Robinson said.
“When we started this budget process, we looked at our expenses, and we looked at what our anticipated revenue was and, at that time, we were $4.5 million shy,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi said, recalling the early stages of the budget process. Then, when the New York state Legislature came out with its budget, there was an additional $4.3 million in aid slated for Baldwin.
“So you might think, well, that’s great, but the aid that we get is not money given to us,” Camhi said. “A lot of it is expense-driven aid, and if you don’t spend the money, you don’t get the money back . . . When we look at multi-year spending, we are doing it in such a way that we will never be in a position to fall off a cliff.”
School board members and administrators were careful to make sure that what is projected is “reasonable,” Camhi continued.
“The state aid increase that was reflected in the legislative budget — that $4.3 million — because of adjustments that we had to make and forecasts in expense-driven aid, the actual increase is $2.3 million, not $4.3 million,” she said.
So the gap was filled with the additional state aid as well as money that was moved from the district’s reserves, giving officials a balanced budget. The total amount of state aid that the district is expected to receive is about $34.9 million, which represents an increase of about $2.3 million over the current year.
Additionally, Baldwin Library Director Elizabeth Olesh presented information about the library’s proposed budget, which includes no tax levy increase. The total budget is about $4.5 million, which represents a decrease of about $4,800 over the current year’s budget. The tax levy remains flat at about $4.3 million.
The school and library budget vote is scheduled for next Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in person at the Baldwin Schools District Office, at 960 Hastings St. For more information, visit www.baldwinschools.org/budgetinfo.