Extra state aid helps Syracuse balance school budget

Apr 16, 2014

The new budget for Syracuse public schools includes more state aid than the district asked for, but the school district still has to dip into the fund balance to level its finances.

The Syracuse City School District asked for $7 million from the state in order to balance its budget. Legislators came up with an extra $1.9 million, part of an overall state spending increase on education.

The extra cash will allow them to restore some previous cuts, Suzanne Slack, the district’s chief financial officer, said.

The district will gain 43 faculty positions. It will also hire more security guards for its elementary and middle schools.

"Because that helps with prevention," Slack said in an interview. "I think they’ll help us reestablish relationships with the students to make sure they know someone is there and being mindful of what activities are going on."

Student safety has been an issue in recent months after a number of incidents in schools.

Due to freezes or decreases in state aid in previous years, known as gap elimination, state aid to Syracuse schools was reduced by more than $50 million, according to Slack, which she calls devastating.

"So even though things are getting better, there is still a significant gap between what we need, or should be getting in the formula, and what they’ve given us," she said.

The district will also need to use $14 million in reserve funding to keep the district in the black. That could make it very low when the next budget season comes around.

"But you always have that Sophie’s Choice," Slack said. "Do I save money for a rainy day and layoff people now, or do I pay teachers this year and hope that I’m able to save money in some other fashion during the year? So that when this year’s finalized maybe I didn’t use all of it and maybe I have a little bit more fund balance for the future year."

As one of the state’s five dependent school districts, it can’t levy a tax increase on its own; just the mayor can. Mayor Stephanie Miner’s budget does not include a property tax increase.

The school district is also in the process of overhauling or phasing out three chronically underperforming schools, including Fowler High School.

The public hearing on the city and school district budgets is April 30 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.