Mt. Sinai Superintendent Enrico Crocetti was planning for a rainy day when the district decided to start saving above the 4 percent school budget reserves fund, making his decision, according to Crocetti, a well planned one.
Audit results released Monday by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli show the Mt. Sinai School District overestimated expenditures for the past five consecutive years, creating surpluses that exceeded statutory limits.
As a result of these budget variances, the district’s unexpended surplus funds continued to grow – ranging from 6 percent to 14 percent of budgeted appropriations. The state’s Real Property Tax Law, however, limits the amount of unexpended surplus funds that school districts can legally retain to 4 percent. The district currently holds a reserve balance of about 7.5 percent.
“We didn’t think the 4 percent made sense,” said Crocetti at the Wednesday night board of education meeting. “This was a preemptive move to a storm that was coming and exemplifies good planning. The state mandates 4 percent and we are doing above that. If 4 percent is all I had at this year’s budget the conversation would be what do you want to cut. Other districts are living that right now.”
Crocetti said the district has been responsible in their planning and has the required five-year plan in place to reduce the excess funds.
According to a presentation slide put up at the meeting, the reserve balance was 7.5 percent totaling $8.4 million as of July. The five-year plan will decrease the reserve each year, leaving them with just $1.3 million by the 2016-17 school year.
“That’s not crazy money when you are talking about a $55 million budget. That doesn’t seem too insane,” said Crocetti who likens it to a household budget. “If your household income is $80,000 and you are putting aside just 4 percent, that $3,200 isn’t going to get you far in an emergency.”
Budget increases for the district have, on the whole, been low, with a decrease in spending in 2012-13. Increases for the last four years were:
· 09/10- 1.03 percent increase
· 10/11- .78 percent increase
· 11/12 1.24 percent increase
· 12/13- .53 percent decrease
· 13/14- .96 percent increase
“We saw a fiscal problem coming and had the wherewithal to squirrel away the money,” said Crocetti.
Board of Education President, Robert Sweeney said it “made sense to do a five-year plan and budget.”
Jill Sanders, independent auditor for the district spoke at the meeting and said the district’s business office has done a good job.
“The books are auditable and there are checks and balances in place,” said Sanders. She recommends that the district evaluates the 5 year plan to reduce the surplus on a yearly basis and get to 4 percent when reasonable.
“They have a five-year plan and they are doing it,” said Sanders.