Construction continues on the Little Falls City School District’s capital project, with Dr. Keith Levatino, District Superintendent reporting that work is well ahead of schedule because of the building’s early closure due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

by Dave Warner

The Little Falls City School District’s Board of Education unanimously passed the proposed 2020-21 school budget of $22,499,245, which represents a 1.32% decrease over the current year’s budget.

Ashraf Allam, District Director of Business Operations and Technology, said, “our goal was to preserve classroom sizes to the largest extent possible and to continue support of District initiatives we had started like STEAM, Curriculum Cycle, and School Improvement activities.”

“We really wanted to right-size instead of down-size,” he stated. “We really wanted to be strategic and look at what we could do without harming our central mission.”

The District is also going to be preparing for the additional support and remediation students will need after an extended period of remote learning.

Allam stated, “the truth is, our support staff is going to be needed more than ever to make up the gap that we’re going to have to cover once we get back to a more traditional model.”

The district has reduced costs by not replacing positions vacated due to retirement or resignation, and no active faculty or staff will be laid off in the proposed budget.

State aid declined by an estimated $787,184, and the district will apply $290,00 of the unassigned fund balance to reduce the burden on taxpayers.  That means that the proposed tax levy for 2020-21, is $8,959,487, a 1.97% increase from the previous year, or $173,315.

Allam said, “the option stays on the table for further aid cuts as we go through the year. Fifty-nine percent of our revenues come from state aid, so we’re a little sensitive to any loss in aid because that’s the vast majority of where our revenue comes from.”

The proposed tax levy is below the state limit of $9,088,299 for next year, so residents will still qualify for the property tax relief credits.

The board felt that although the current financial crisis poses a serious challenge, they have weathered the first wave because of a reasonable fund balance and taking advantage of retirements and other staffing and program opportunities.

Allam said that “we are continuing to keep a safety officer at our two campuses. Other districts have started to do away with that service under the current crisis.”

He also stated that health insurance costs continue to cause budgetary pressure. “There was a 13.9% increase last year and we won’t know our future costs until well into the summer, usually late August.”

If the current state funding outlook remains negative in future years, the board feels that they’ll have to be very careful about not overly relying on their fund balance and that non-essential costs will have to be monitored closely so that core programs are preserved.

Dr. Keith Levatino, District Superintendent said, “to date, our district has been fortunate to not have to lay anyone off. Again, that could change pending Governor Cuomo, but we’re very proud of where we are.”

How to Vote

Voting for the school district can only be done through an absentee ballot this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two ballots will be mailed to each household in the district, and they will be available online as well.

The district needs 50% of the votes, plus one to have the budget pass, despite the absentee approach to voting.

The School Board will meet on June 9, 2020 at 7 pm to verify the results of the budget vote. Additional information and ballots can be accessed here.