LYONS — The gloom-and-doom talk of school districts running out of money has picked up steam in the past couple of years.
Last week, an auditor told Lyons school officials that the district will be insolvent at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Ray Wager, an independent auditor out of Henrietta, outlined fiscal projections for the next few years to the school board at last week’s meeting. Wager’s projections indicate that Lyons will be too far in the red to survive beyond 2016-17.
That would put more than 850 students in a pinch and nearly 100 teachers and support staff out of work.
“Our well is dry,” Superintendent Denise Dzikowski said. “Any more loss of funding is going to be devastating.”
Dzikowski said the district is paying close attention to the Wayne County Board of Supervisors and their talk of discontinuing the sharing of sales-tax revenue with county schools.
“We only receive $44,000, with a 1 percent tax levy,” Dzikowski said. “This is a high-needs community, and we won’t be able to make up this kind of deficit with an increase in taxes.”
Dzikowski said from the 2011-12 school year to 2012-13, the district went from losing $5,137 annually to $676,448. She attributed the rise to the state’s tax cap, Gap Elimination Adjustment losses, an increase in unfunded mandates, a decrease in local assessments and inequitable distribution of Foundation Aid.
As of June 30, Dzikowski said the district had a total fund balance of $4,776,577. At the end of the current school year, that will be down to $3,977,896. The fund balance is forecast to fall to $2,658,860 in 2015, $767,869 in 2016 and $0 in 2017.
In fact, it’s estimated that the district could be in the red by as much as $1,652,653 by June 30, 2017, a number which could approach $5 million the following year.
Wager’s figures were based on local taxes rising 1.9 percent; no state or federal aid increase; sales-tax sharing continuing; salaries increasing 3 percent; and health care and retirement benefits increasing 10 percent.
Dzikowski admitted she is at a loss right now.
“There is no answer, no legal mechanism in place for the district to follow,” she said. “The New York State Constitution states an obligation to provide an education, but how can we if the state is not funding it?”
Other districts face similar scenarios. Dzikowski said Lyons will watch closely to see what the state does when a district is forced to close its doors.
“The state may provide answers when only five districts close, but what happens in the next decade as schools start closing by the 20s or 30s in number?” Dzikowski asked.
Because Dzikowski doesn’t believe much will change on the revenue side, cuts will have to be made.
The district could reduce expenditures through attrition, involuntary reductions, evaluating service contracts, continuing to require multiple quotes and bids for goods and services, and maximizing shared services. Merging with another district or becoming part of a regional model are other options, although those paths would require years of planning and preparation.
“We are open to anything; nothing will be off the table,” Dzikowski said. “The board is going to have to take a hard, long look at options. When it comes to consolidation and mergers, communities are voting them down because they don’t want to give up part of their identity, and they value their schools. We can look at recent votes and see that they weren’t passed partly for those reasons.”
Dzikowski said the reality of Lyons’ situation hasn’t set in as yet.
“How do you look into faces of students, knowing teachers and staff are doing everything they can to help them, and not know what the future holds?” she said.