Fredonia reduces and OKs new budget

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Board of Education member Tom Hawk attempted to reduce the District’s tax levy even further at a recent meeting. His motion did not receive support from his fellow Board members.

After many weeks of reconfiguration, the Fredonia Central School District has finalized its proposal for the 2024-25 School Budget. The Board of Education passed the budget unanimously.

The District has proposed a budget of $36,428,315, with a 5.13% spending increase. The 2023-24 School Budget was in the amount of $34,651,243.

The District is increasing the school tax levy by 1.71% to generate a tax levy of $17,160,211. Enrollment within the District across all grade levels is 1,417.

A year ago, the District began with a proposed tax levy increase of over 3%.

Eventually, the District trimmed that figure down to 3.25%, then later lowered the figure to 2.99% after additional aid was received. In this year’s initial proposal, the figure was much higher, with an initial ask of 4.68% above last year’s figure. The initial ask was more than $500,000 above the tax levy limit, a cap the District has not exceeded since the pre-limit stage in 2011-12.

In the weeks since its dramatic ask, however, the District has made substantial progress in lowering the increase to a much more manageable figure. The District is now equal to the tax levy limit and comfortably below the administrative cap.

A major part of the 5.13% spending increase is through salaries, benefits, and contractual expenses. Of the total increased expenditures of $1.77 million, salary increases account for $1.07 million, with another $322,477 in benefits increases and $432,795 of contractual increases, driven mostly by an increase of $253,385 in transportation costs. Through four drafts of the budget before it was approved, the increase in expenditures dropped each time, beginning at 6.71%, and eventually reaching 5.13% on the fourth proposal.

Of the proposed budget, more than 70% of the overall budget — more than $25.5 million — is allocated to salaries and benefits. More than 50% of the budget is just salaries alone, at more than $18.2 million. BOCES expenses are at just over $4.44 million, and contractual expenses are at just over $4.36 million.

Instructional salaries are up $691,840 (4.88%); non-instructional salaries are up $382,848 (9.12%); and benefits are up $322,477 (4.59%).

The budget accounts for the inclusion of all of the District’s positions currently funded via American Rescue Plan Act funds, which expires this fall. The District elected to maintain its employees with the additional aid, which now will account for $487,735 of the budget.

The budget also accounts for five retirements at a cost of $538,103; four staff replacements at a cost of $216,372; and a staff retirement incentive of $53,079.

The District made increases to staffing in two areas of need: Music and Social Work. A part-time music department position has been increased to a full-time position at a cost of $25,678 to the District. Additionally, the District will also be adding a full-time social worker for the High School. The District had been sharing a social worker between the Middle School and High School, but after High School Principal Darrin Paschke repeatedly urged the District to increase the staffing to meet the needs of the students, the Board has approved the increase.

The District is receiving an increase of $1.7 million in State Aid, from $16.1 million last year to $17.8 million this upcoming year. The budget trend of increased percentage of the budget coming from State Aid continued this year, with 49.11% of the overall budget coming from State Aid, compared to 46.7% a year ago, and a steady increase in each of the past five years from 41.3% of the budget in 2020-21. The District has allocated $750,000 of fund balance to cover 2.06% of the total budget amount.

Because of the increase in State Aid and other funds remaining in reserves and through tax certiorari, Board of Education member Tom Hawk attempted at the last minute to lower the tax levy even more, from 1.71% to 1.23%, by applying additional funds to the budget. The other members of the Board did not support his motion to do so.

Board President Brian Aldrich stated the Board initially set an informal goal several years ago of around 8% of reserve funds on hand for the District. In recent years, the District’s reserves have dropped below less than half of that figure — slightly below 4% — which has caused Aldrich and several Board members to favor a conservative approach.

“I think it’s important for this District to have a safety net,” Aldrich said. “… I don’t think that the 1.71% is a burden to our taxpayers.”

During the second public comment portion of the meeting, State Assembly candidate Mike Bobseine recognized the Board for its discussion regarding the budget and credited Hawk for voting in favor of the budget despite no other member of the Board supporting his motion to reduce the tax levy further.

“It says a great deal about, certainly, Mr. Hawk, but also just you operating as a school board and how important that is for this district,” Bobseine said.

The District will hold its Budget Vote on May 21, from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m., in the High School cafeteria.


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