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Ogdensburg considers burning fund balance money faster than planned

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With a $1.5 million budget gap looming over the 2013-2014 budget deliberations Ogdensburg City School Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey advocated allocating more of the school’s declining fund balance at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Mr. Vernsey said the district was able to build up a solid fund balance due to the board’s understanding that it’s important to have money set aside for a rainy day.

“Luckily we embarked on a path to increase fund balance,” Mr. Vernsey said, pointing to the period between 2008 and 2011 when the fund balance grew from $2 million to $4.7 million.

“Now you see a downward trend,” Mr. Vernsey said, “and that’s the result of us expending fund balance to offset state cuts.”

From $4.7 million in 2011 the fund balance has been reduced to roughly $3.1 million currently and the school is anticipating applying $1.4 million to the 2013-2014 budget.

“When you’re using fund balance [to fill budget gaps] and you’re spending fund balance it’s a double edge sword,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Board President Frederick P. Bean said he was glad the district managed to save up reserves. “Where would we be if we didn’t do that?”

But programs and positions are on the chopping block.

In addition to more than 50 position cuts since 2007, eight cuts are scheduled for the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Possible program cuts also include Odyssey of the Mind, a level of athletics, summer marching band and several electives.

“We do need to maintain some reserves for unforeseen circumstances,” Vice President of the Board Michael J. Tooley said. “The safety net has to be there.”

But Mr. Tooley said, if applying more fund balance becomes necessary, “I am content with having a lesser safety net.”

Unless the state budget, due by April 1, has more aid to offer Ogdensburg, Mr. Vernsey said the district should dip into the fund balance.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mr. Vernsey said, “and it gets worse by the minute.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget proposal includes $23,444,824 in aid to Ogdensburg, including for the ongoing building project. Subtract the building aid from the total and the district is slated to receive $19.7 million, an increase of $225,996 over the 2012-2013 budget.

That increase, however, hides the $1,187,771 deduction the state is taking out of Ogdensburg’s budget as part of its Gap Elimination Adjustment – a program initiated in 2010 where the state uses money that would otherwise be directed to schools to balance its own budget.

“If the state does not start funding education to promised levels,” Mr. Vernsey said, “this district, along with many, many other poor districts in the state are going to go broke.”

Mr. Vernsey noted that, to date, Ogdensburg has lost out on roughly $4.6 million due to Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“You can see where we’re headed,” Mr. Vernsey said.

Mr. Vernsey said the district’s budget will be finalized after the state adopts its budget.

A public hearing to consider the district’s budget will be held May 6 at the high school cafeteria at 6 p.m.

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