Patrick J. Gabriel, Jr.
Germantown Central School District 518-537-6281 ext 308
2012-2013 Budget Message
Horace Mann, considered the founder of American public education, said “Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.” As I look a few years ahead and try to imagine what changes the Germantown Central School District may undergo, I am confident that we can make the right things happen.
Even Horace Mann could not have predicted the cost of funding a free and appropriate public education. In 1787, nine years before he was born, the New York State Board of Regents, in its first year of operation, recommended state support for public schools. The State Legislature first acted in 1795, appropriating $100,000 a year for each of the next five years to encourage the establishment of common schools under the supervision of town commissioners. It wasn’t until 1874 that attending school became compulsory. Since that time, paying for public education has for the most part been shared by the state and localities in one way or another.
In today’s economy, developing a financial plan for the future is a daunting task. But it is part of “making the right things happen.” Each school year’s budget has an effect on the years that follow. The same is true when projecting tax levies; Planning for one year at a time is not a good practice.
On Wednesday, April 11, 2012 the Germantown Board of Education adopted a proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year. My budget recommendations were made with the resolve to sustain Germantown Central School not just for next year, but for the years ahead.
Today, public school financing relies on two sources of revenue and whatever reserves are available from year to year. The revenue sources are state aid and local property taxes. In the past, Germantown could rely on as much as 40% of its revenue from the state. Since 2008, state aid has declined and is now approximately 30% of our revenue. When state aid declines, the fact is that sustaining quality public education depends on additional revenues from local property taxes. The result: taxes go up.
Reserves are created during school years when we spend less than what we bring in. During years when unexpected expenses require us to spend more than we initially budget, we must pull funds from our reserves. The law requires that school districts maintain balanced budgets. However, managing the district’s reserves requires an understanding of future expenses. Depleting reserves would result in the district’s inability to meet future obligations and emergencies. Therefore, each year that we successfully control costs and conserve some of our resources, we are better prepared for unanticipated expenses, as well as for future budget cycles.
Managing an adopted budget by carefully striving to keep spending levels below what was budgeted, and making good use of unanticipated revenue, results in building reserves that may be used to control tax levies from one year to the next. Budget management that depletes reserves would result in property taxes fluctuating inconsistently at best, and ultimately causing them to reach unsustainable increases.
In today’s economy, sustaining public schools is a challenge. School budgets increasingly have to rely on property taxes, even with careful management of resources and efforts to control costs through staffing and program reductions (Germantown has averaged almost a 0% budget change over the last four years.). True, downsizing that includes staffing reductions is painful and impacts morale. And, school taxes are a hardship for some households. We also know that communities are measured in large part by how committed they are to supporting their schools. The Germantown community has a long history of steadfastly supporting its schools. I believe that the budget the Germantown Board of Education has adopted is a move toward sustaining the educational system we value for our children.
I am proud that Germantown discusses issues freely. The risk associated with open discussion is that mistaken public perceptions overshadow the truth. I have heard it said that the Germantown School is closing. That is not the plan. Germantown is actively embracing the wisdom in Horace Mann’s words. We cannot and will not wait to see what will happen. We are confronting the uncertainty before us and are determined to find a way to create our own future.
I would like to thank every member of the Board of Education for their dedication and perseverance during this difficult budget process. They engaged in open and thoughtful debate with each other and the public as they completed the process and adopted the 2012-2013 budget proposition that will go before the voters on May 15th.
Patrick J. Gabriel, Jr. Superintendent Germantown Central School
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