Tuxedo among 87 school districts reviewed by state

State comptroller says district’s use of ‘rainy day funds’ makes it ‘susceptible to fiscal stress’

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  • George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo.

— Officials of the Tuxedo School District said a state comptroller’s report citing school districts with dealing fiscal stress - which includes Tuxedo as a district “susceptible to fiscal stress” - are for many varied reasons.

The “susceptible to fiscal stress” designation is the lowest designation of the three levels cited in State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s report focusing on 87 school districts.

$400,000 in question
In Tuxedo’s case, it borrowed $200,000 from its fund balance and $200,000 from its tax reserve fund in order to keep its programs intact and minimize a tax increase to school district residents, Carol Lomascolo, Tuxedo School District superintendent, said on Tuesday morning.

“That’s a big amount for us, but we’re focusing on holding (onto) our programs and keeping the tax increase low,” she added. “We dipped into our rainy day fund. That’s why you have a rainy day fund. But that’s why we’re on the list.”

Tuxedo’s challenges are not unlike what all school districts are facing as they grapple with reductions in state aid, local tax caps and declining tax reserve funds, in addition to programmatic issues.

“Our district is just beginning to feel the fiscal pressures that other districts have been struggling with over the past years,” Lomascolo wrote in a letter published on the district’s Web site, www.tuxedoufsd.org.

87 school districts examined

DiNapoli’s report looked at districts’ year-end fund balances, cash positions and patterns of operating deficits from 2011 to 2013.

Lomascolo cautioned people need to understand the details of the report. She felt prior a published media report - which focused only on six school districts in the immediate regional area - could “mislead” the public into thinking there were only six districts cited in DiNapoli’s report.

Lomascolo emphasized the report focuses on three levels of stress for the 87 districts DiNapoli referenced.

“The Tuxedo district is in the ‘susceptible to fiscal stress listing,’” she wrote in her letter. “There are 12 school districts listed as ‘Significant Stress.’ There are 23 districts listed as ‘Moderate Stress.’ And there are 52 school districts listed as ‘Susceptible to Fiscal Stress.’”

In his report, DiNapoli wrote: “This system measures the level of fiscal stress a school district is facing, not its level of fiscal health. A district’s absence from the top three categories should not be viewed as substantiation of good financial condition by OSC (Office of the State Comptroller).”

How the report was done

DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System (FSMS) represents “a systematic and objective methodology for identifying the presence of stress conditions in a school district,” according to the report.

The report said FSMS uses financial indicators, which evaluate budgetary solvency (the ability of a school district to generate enough revenues to meet expenditures) and environmental indicators, which capture those circumstances and trends that are largely outside the district’s control but which have a bearing on its revenue-raising capabilities as well as its demand for and/or mix of services.

Only the scores calculated by using the financial indicators will determine a district’s placement on the fiscal stress list, according to the report.

Tuxedo’s score was 38.3 percent.

As a comparison, the Kiryas Joel School District - which was also listed in the report - is listed in “significant stress” with a score of 75 percent, the fourth worst score statewide.

- Nancy Kriz

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