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Admins: Challenges Remain for Future Budgets

Harrison voters will decide whether or not they support they the district's $104.2 million spending plan on May 15.

Admins: Challenges Remain for Future Budgets

Outlining the almost year-long process of creating the , Harrison school administrators said they had to rely on several one-time savings opportunities to get this year's budget under the tax cap—opportunities they say probably won't be available to them next year.

Harrison Assistant Superintendent for Business Robert Salierno said things like decreased enrollment, a decrease in the number of special education students and borrowing from the district's fund balance are one-time cost savers that probably won't be available next year.

The district saved about $1.6 million in the 2012-13 budget by eliminating or absorbing 10.4 full-time equivalent positions. Five of those positions are teaching positions. Class sizes weren't affected because of a slight dip in enrollment, Salierno said.

Harrison Superintendent Louis Wool said the district offered a retirement incentive this fall in anticipation of the decreased enrollment. But administrators said Wednesday they don't expect the number of Harrison students to continue to decrease moving forward.

"That will not repeat itself, so we have some large numbers in the budget that we are taking advantage of this year that are all what I call 'one shots'," Salierno said.

The district was also able to borrow from its fund balance—approximately $4 million this year—to help decrease the burden on taxpayers. But that balance essentially serves as the district's savings account, so Salierno said borrowing isn't something he wants to make a habit of.

"That's not something we can maintain moving forward," he said.

Overall, administrators have been able to slash more than $3 million from the budget since November, Salierno said. More than $1 million of that savings came from decreases in instructional and non-instructional staff.

The Harrison Board of Education approved the preliminary 2012 budget last week. The proposed budget has a tax levy increase of 1.97 percent, placing it beneath the tax cap. The tax rate increase is estimated at 3.08 percent.

The board of education applauded the budget last week, saying administrators achieved their two goals of staying beneath the tax cap without affecting class sizes or reducing programming.

"It's been a very long and difficult process for us," Wool said Wednesday. "This is a board that has dedicated itself to a long range plan, a long range vision for education and for finance, so I think we have, to the extent possible, managed through this crisis period."

But keeping that direction moving forward will be another challenge, said Salierno, who noted that increased state pension costs alone increased the budget about 1.8 percent this year. Other outside factors like decreased revenue, declining state and federal funding and decreasing property assessments also make staying beneath the 2 percent tax levy cap difficult moving forward.

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