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Comptroller: Utica School Officials Adopted and Stayed Within Realistic Budgets, But Borrowed Too Much

Photo: Kristine Bellino

They are doing the best with what they have, but should not borrow against the future…that is the gist of the latest audit of the Utica City School District.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office released the audit report today and said that city school officials basically agree with the findings and have agreed to take corrective action.

The problem is not a new one for the district, and is by no means unique to Utica.   The budgetary crisis within the Utica City School District has forced the layoffs of dozens of staff members during the last two budget cycles.  Essentially there is no money and that simple fact has, officials say, forced them to borrow against a declining fund balance.

The following excerpts are from the Comptroller’s report:

Utica City School District Financial Condition Report 2013M-341 p5

The audit notes that, despite a decline in available revenue, the district has made improvements in its fiscal management but, as stated in the report, “…has very little cushion for managing unforseen events.”  One of those unforseen events is an outstanding debt owed the school district by the City of Utica, a debt that Mayor Rob Palmieri has, during a recent appearance on WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning, said is being paid according to a payment schedule.  The Mayor has directed other questions about the repayment to the office of the City Comptroller, Bill Morehouse.  Calls to Mr. Morehouse have not been returned as of this posting.

Utica City School District Financial Condition Report 2013M-341 p7

The following is from the Comptroller’s report:

As to how serious the use of the fund balance is one must look to the amount of money in place.  According to the findings the fund balance decreased by almost nine million dollars between June of 2010 to June 2013.

Utica City School District Financial Condition 2013M-341 p6

Utica City School Board President Christopher Salatino’s formal response to the audit, along with the action plan being implemented by the Utica City School District, is included in the report.

DiNapoli also acknowledged the unique makeup of the Utica City School District, and how it differs from other districts in the state.

The are thirteen schools in the UCSD, with a steadily growing total of just under ten thousand students.  The budget is nearly $139 million, of which 75% comes from the state and 22% from property taxes.

Utica falls below the state average of $20,410 spent per student, coming in at $15,641.  Eighty percent of students within the district qualify for free or reduced price lunches and fifteen percent “have limited English proficiency.”  Noted too is the fact that the district’s percentage of students with disabilities is 16.3-percent, compared to the state average of 12.8-percent.

Salatino cites several reasons for the lack of funding for the district, including the GAP Elimination Adjustment and the freezing of the foundation aid formula.  In addition to implementing fiscal changes within the district, both Salatino and Utica City Schools Superintendent Bruce Karam have been actively lobbying the state legislature for changes in educational funding.  Both will discuss what is being done on upcoming airings of WIBX First News with Keeler in the Morning.

Utica City School District Financial Condition Report 2013M-341

 

 

 

 

 

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