2011-02-09 / Education

District looks at using reserve funds to offset budget gaps

Amherst schools
by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

To help offset potential funding shortages over the next three years, the Amherst Central School District is looking at the use of surplus and reserve funds.

At the Feb. 1 board meeting, Business Administrator Melanie Conley proposed that $1.96 million in reserve funds could be used over the next three years for the district’s spending plan: $60,000 of a $206,000 reserve to pay judgments or claims in tax certiorari; $1.35 million of a $1.9 million reserve to pay any accrued employee benefits; and $550,000 of a $700,000 reserve to pay for retirement contributions.

She said the application of the reserves would be based on forecasted spending increases and revenue decreases in the three-year plan. She said consideration was given to maintain a reasonable fund balance (surplus) for beyond the next three years.

“Applying them allows for more gradual budgetary impact — a smoothing effect,” said Conley.

The reserve funds will be needed. Conley said the district will lose $590,259 of Federal Jobs Fund money for the 2012-13 budget as well as see increases in retirement contribution rates.

She said the district will also maintain unappropriated surplus at its current 3.8 percent of the budget and continue to use appropriated surplus with some reductions over the next three years.

A reserve fund to pay the cost of repairs to capital improvements or equipment — those of a type not recurring annually — was also discussed but has not yet been created.

The district could also potentially use $800,000 in appropriated surplus for 2011-12, $700,000 for 2012-13 and $600,000 for 2013-14.

The board has not made any decisions on the matter.

In another matter, Michael Belle-Isle, director of special education and pupil personnel services, began the meeting with a presentation on culturally responsive teaching.

Over the last four years, Belle-Isle said the percentage of African-American students in the district has risen from 13 to 17 percent and 25 percent are classified as students with disabilities.

“That is a disparity that we would like to see shrink,” said Belle-Isle. “It has shrunk over the last four years since we have collected data and had training discussions. We have maintained stability at 25 percent.”

In 2008, 95 percent of African-American students scored a Basic (Level 2) on English language arts tests, which was better than the state average of 52 percent and the U.S. average of 46 percent. Another 45 percent were proficient (Level 3 or 4) versus 17 percent for the state and 14 percent across the country.

To battle the problem, the district has offered such initiatives at the high school as a black student union called “Covenant in Action” and an English elective called “Race in America.”

Sustaining staff development is conducted through a three-day cultural responsibility training seminar which began on Feb. 3 and continues on Feb. 9 and 17 at the high school. The first day dealt with one’s self-awareness and understanding of racism, the second day focuses on the historical background of race in America and its role in educational disparity, and the third day examines the change in thought and how to implement changes in schools with children and their families.

“We’re doing better, but we need to close the gap,” said Belle-Isle. “That is the main focus of the training.”

Joining Belle-Isle at the meeting were middle school psychologist Kelly Zimmerman, Windermere Boulevard Elementary social worker Leslie Barr, middle school reading teacher Deborah Starks and high school special education teacher/teacher on special assignment Susan Saladino.

e-mail: pnagy@beenews.com

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