Mrs. Cheryl Steckly
Superintendent of Schools
7668 State Street
Lowville, NY 13367
Letter from the Superintendent
Dear Parents and Community Members,
In order to continuously grow and improve as a school, we reflect on all of our past achievements and take time to set new goals for the important work in 2019 and beyond. As we pass the mid-point of the school year, it is important to remain focused on learning and growing. There is a great deal to do in the months ahead and we look forward to working with all of our students to prepare them for the challenging tasks that are before them. We hope that a new semester will bring your child success in school and in all that they do. We will do all that we can to make this happen.
On-going professional development for staff is essential as standards change and curriculum is modified to meet new goals. To work toward that end, the Board of Education approved the addition of an in-service day on Wednesday, March 6. Students will not be in session that day to accommodate the important work that staff members need to accomplish. There will be a training for staff provided by the NYS Police on School Violence-Incident Prevention and Response and the remainder of the day will be focused on curriculum work. On Thursday, March 21 students in grades K-5 will be dismissed at 12:40 for spring parent conferences. Please look for more information from the elementary office regarding this important date.
State Budget News
As of the printing of this newsletter, the NYS Legislature has returned to Albany and started budget deliberations with Governor Cuomo. We remain hopeful that a reasonable course of action that focuses on the educational needs of our children will be considered in the final state budget decisions. Our Board of Education and administrative staff will be working hard in the weeks ahead to carefully evaluate every aspect of the 2019-20 projected budget. The Board has focused on the budget since December with considerable time spent on the development of a spending plan that meets the educational needs of the district while accommodating the economic issues at the national, state and local level.
LACS Budget Outlook
As a district we have been most fortunate to benefit from the revenue generated by the Maple Ridge PILOT agreement. With this revenue, we had the opportunity to expand educational programs and extracurricular opportunities for students and improve the facility all while maintaining a low tax rate. However, the board was always mindful in their planning that at any point there could be a change to the existing PILOT. While the previous PILOT agreement was set to expire during the 2021-22 school year, the taxing jurisdictions were approached by the project owners requesting a renegotiation of the final four years of the agreement due to financial downturns and assessment challenges. Through several months of negotiations, a new PILOT agreement was established through the IDA. This new agreement extends through 2031.
The Q & A segment that follows will help give interested citizens good background knowledge of the challenges we will work to address in 2019-20.
What is the impact to LACS revenues as a result of the Renegotiated PILOT Agreement?
As anticipated, the new PILOT agreement will result in a significant loss of revenue. The reductions will begin in this current school year with a payment that is $472,000 less than budgeted. The district is able to adjust to this shortfall through careful monitoring of expenditures and offsetting with the use of fund balance and other revenue surplus. The challenge becomes more difficult as the payment will reduce another $441,000 in 2019-20, which has a budget to budget impact of approximately $913,000. In 2020-21, the PILOT revenues will reduce again $328,000 followed by another $487,000 in 2021-22 before leveling off for a few years. The final reduction of about $190,000 will occur in the 2025-26 school year when the total annual PILOT payment to LACS will be approximately $760,000 as compared to the $3,560,000 originally anticipated during 2018-19.
Why Did the Taxing Jurisdictions Agree to a New PILOT?
In July the company filed an application challenging their assessment and made it very clear that they were not able/willing to proceed with the original PILOT agreement. The taxing jurisdictions felt it best to negotiate for an amended agreement that would help transition to the lower amount of the new PILOT instead of having a steeper decline or worse yet having the Wind Farm no longer operational.
Did the Board Ever Consider This Contingency Could Happen?
The Board clearly anticipated the possibility of the original PILOT agreement being amended prior to the end and conscientiously set aside funds to help with any transition. After several years of seeking, the district received special legislation in the Fall of 2015 and voter approval in May 2016 to establish an Energy Systems Tax Stabilization Reserve specifically for this purpose. There is currently $12.1 million in this reserve.
How will the District make up this decline in revenues?
The Board will make every effort throughout the coming years to maintain a high quality educational program while ensuring the district remains financially stable. Their three prong approach will involve decreasing spending by evaluating each and every program with the hope to reduce through attrition when necessary; using established reserves in a thoughtful and prudent manner and raising taxes at a reasonable level.
Will the District have to raise taxes?
The taxpayers of this district have been very fortunate over the past 13 years to have had little to no increases in taxes. The district warrant today of $4,005,428 in still about $130,000 less than it was in 2005-06, while the tax rate per thousand is now $7.22 as compared to $14.98, respectively. At this point in time it is clear that a tax increase will be necessary; however, the Board is still developing the budget for 2019-20 and is awaiting a clearer picture of what the state aid revenues will be before determining the projected increase.
How will the District residents be kept updated?
Please look for more information to come in future newsletters and at the Budget Hearing and/or Community Meetings.
What is the LACS Timeline for Budget Adoption?
Looking ahead, the following dates are important milestones as the budget comes together;
Board of Education Meetings - Upcoming 2019-20 Budget Development Workshops - February 11, March 4 and March 18, 2019
Adoption of 2019-20 Budget by LACS Board of Education -Tentatively Scheduled for April 8, 2019
Public Filing of the LACS Budget with NYS Education Department - By April 25, 2019
Official Public Hearing and Presentation - May 13, 2019 - LACS Elementary Cafeteria 6:30 p.m.
Annual Meeting including Trustee Election and Budget Vote - Tuesday, May 21 - 12:00 Noon-8:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium
As we move into 2019, I want to thank each of you for supporting your child and working in partnership with us as we remain focused on our goal of providing the best educational opportunities for each of our students. Your commitment and dedication to both your children and to our community is evident and is deeply appreciated. It is truly a privilege to serve as Superintendent of Lowville Academy with the knowledge that our community recognizes education as being the key to a better life. Once again, thank you and the best to you in the new year!