Navigating the 2024-2025 Budget Season

Navigating the 2024-2025 Budget Season

As if the annual budget season for school administrators and Boards of Education (BOE) isn’t challenging enough, a lack of information about the final New York state budget’s impact on Foundation Aid and the hold harmless (also referred to as save harmless) provision, along with enrollment challenges and the pending expiration of pandemic-era relief funds, have combined to create a perfect storm.

Originally, we were hoping to write this article about where the New York State 2024 budget landed in respect to education. The deadline for a final budget was April 1, but it has been pushed back as Senate and Assembly members rejected proposed cuts and are fighting for a 3% budget increase and restoration of Foundation Aid.

According to Senator Michelle Hinchey, “The Mid-Hudson region stands out as the most affected area compared to other regions in the state, facing a $31 million reduction (4.2%) in total funding.”

Hinchey led a rally to restore funding for mid-Hudson and upstate NY school. As noted on her website, “Our rural and Mid-Hudson Valley schools face the biggest cuts in the entire state; these are districts that have historically received inadequate Foundation Aid and cannot absorb the detrimental losses proposed without cutting curriculum or laying off staff. Out of 31 school districts in my district, all but six of them would face drastic cuts in funding, forcing them to make these decisions imminently.”

This leaves districts in a precarious situation as budget season moves ahead and local budget voting periods loom.

Another focal point of most New York districts’ budget discussions relates to declining enrollment. While student enrollment has been decreasing for years nationwide, it accelerated during COVID and in the ensuing years. In fact, a report from the Associated Press indicates New York continued to lead the nation in enrollment declines in the 2022-2023 school year, with decreases in every county.

Challenges are exasperated in some areas by a teacher and staffing shortage. What’s more, some districts face additional burdens resulting from high turnover in superintendent, other key administrator, and BOE positions, contributing to disruptions in long-term strategic planning, stage-setting communication, and change management.

New York is by no means alone. In recent years, headlines across the U.S. have been highlighting  challenges brought about by falling enrollment and staffing challenges. Responses have ranged from school closures and consolidations to adoption of a four-day school week and more:

  • Energy and water audits and system updates; explore an energy purchasing consortia through BOCES operations.
  • Working with local government to share resources while reducing costs. This can include everything from library and IT services to groundskeeping, snow removal, equipment expenses, and purchasing coops.
  • Consolidating backroom operations with other districts and local government for functions like payroll and benefits administration, human resources, accounting, staff development, safety and risk management, printing, and more.
  • Vacancy cuts, early retirement incentives, hiring freezes, and rightsizing.
  • Renting or leasing space in empty facilities to generate an income stream.
  • Selling vacant property and saving on property insurance costs.
  • Using GPS routing and inventory management systems for transportation efficiencies; discontinuing courtesy bussing for students who live within a certain distance of a school.
  • Outsourcing non-educational functions like food, custodial, transportation, and IT services.

A few approaches that appear to be helping some districts navigate discussions and the budgeting process include:

  1. Having a long-term strategy, developed collaboratively with parents and the community, so priorities are defined in advance and help guide budget and spending decisions.
  2. Collaboratively working with parents and the community to define guiding principles for making budget cuts. For example, if the number one priority is to maintain all program offerings for students, it’s easier to narrow down and gain support for where costs can be reduced or reallocated.
  3. Developing and presenting budget options based on different funding scenarios – if the state budget moves forward as is; if Foundation Aid is restored; or if state aid increases.

As we wait for the final state budget and answers about education funding for the upcoming school year, bipartisan support for restoring Foundation Aid and increasing the budget along with higher than projected state revenues may help districts avoid the worst-case scenarios – at least for this budget season.

As you focus on your school’s or district’s budgets and plans for the upcoming school year, you can count on RBT CPAs to handle your accounting, tax, audit, and advisory needs. We have been serving organizations and individuals in the Hudson Valley for more than 55 years and show time after time how RBT CPAs and our clients can be Remarkably Better Together. For more information, give us a call.


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