by Bill Zopf, Board President & Dr. Jean Parr, Superintendent
For this month’s column we thought we would touch on various subjects and respond to questions and comments which have been raised over the last couple of months.
• Why has the school district set up various reserve funds?
The school district received additional public and private excess cost aid for the 2005/06 school year from New York State. This aid was based on the prior year's costs paid by the district for out of district placements of our special education students. Although this state aid was for the 2005/06 school year, it was not received by the district until August and September of 2006. The law limits what can be done with this money, but one of the allowable usages is to set up reserve funds with specific purposes.
The reason for reserve funds is to have money set aside which can be used to reduce specific costs in future years and lessen the burden to the taxpayer. Once the financial books for the 2005/06 school year were closed and reviewed by the auditors, the district had a clear understanding of how much money could be set aside. At one of the recent board meetings, two reserve funds were set up. An ‘Employee Benefit Accrued Liability Reserve Fund’ for $1,000,000 was created to help offset future expenses related to non-teaching staff benefits. A Retirement Contribution Reserve Fund with $350,000 was created to help offset future expenses related to the state retirement system contributions.
• The school district web site is confusing and out of date.
The school district has been working with an outside company re-designing the district web site. This new design will make it simpler for people to find information and also it will be easier for district employees to update the web site and keep it the information pertinent. The new look and feel will be available starting December 1st. Please check it out by visiting the website at www.beaconcityschools.org.
• What is happening with the mortgage on the old high school?
When the school district sold the old high school, the district held the mortgage on the building. Unfortunately the owners of the building, the Beacon Cultural Foundation (BCF) have not been able to meet their mortgage payments for some time. In addition, the school district paid $92,718.61 towards the utility bills of the BCF last winter and was looking for reimbursement . The original mortgage schedule was twice amended in an attempt to make it easier for the BCF to make their payments, but ultimately they filed for bankruptcy. The school district has been negotiating with the BCF’s lawyer and has come to a tentative agreement. If this agreement is approved by the bankruptcy court judge, the BCF will return the building to the school district, and agree to reimburse us over the next three years for the utility bills paid by the district. The hearing with the judge is scheduled for November 28 so by the time you read this column the building may be back in the district’s hands. The first order of the day once the building is owned by the school district is to assess the condition of the building and make any necessary repairs to create a safe and comfortable environment for the tenants. We will be looking for input from the public and the tenants for ideas on effective use of the building once this has been done.
• What is the district doing about property tax relief?
A letter to the Editor on Friday, November 19 criticized the Beacon School District for not attending an event sponsored by the 'Help Arlington Lower School Taxes' committee, regarding school funding. However, both Dr. Jean Parr, the district's superintendent, and I did attend this event and found it to be informative and well conducted. The writer of the letter misinterpreted the fact the Beacon School District wasn't a sponsor of the event as a lack of interest on our part. The school board didn't want to lend the district's name as a sponsor because this implies approval and we were not familiar with the organization sponsoring the event, nor what recommendations would be made.
The Beacon school district is as committed as any other district in advocating for property tax relief and taking steps to reduce the burden on our taxpayers. In addition to attending the aforementioned event, I had announced the date of this event at two separate board meetings in case any residents of the school district were interested in attending. The school district also had a board representative at an earlier meeting regarding property tax relief, conducted by Assemblyman Miller at Ketcham High school. The district is currently involved in a lawsuit together with other small cities in New York where we are contesting the amount of state aid we receive from the state. Property tax relief is a complicated issue and will require careful consideration by more than just school districts. Any relief will require action by our state officials so all citizens should keep informed on the various proposals and let their representatives in Albany know which proposals they favor.
If you have any suggestions for future columns you may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.