GENEVA — It’s been a tumultuous 12 months for town School District.
Like all schools, Geneva has handled pandemic restrictions and staffing shortages, including a low variety of substitute teachers. In Geneva, though, there was more to contend with: a probe into the previous superintendent after reports of mistreatment by some staff members — she subsequently was cleared of wrongdoing, but departed anyway — and a superintendent search some claim was hurried.
The latter issue is settled. A former Geneva administrator, Bo Wright, will leave his job leading the Rush-Henrietta school district to take Geneva’s helm July 1.
Interim Superintendent Kathleen Davis got here aboard last fall after former superintendent Patricia Garcia took a leave amid a faculty board-ordered investigation. Davis not only was tasked with restoring stability, but in addition crafting a 2022-23 school budget.
At her side: Maureen Lee, the interim director of business and finance. Lee got here out of retirement after a profession at school district budgeting to take a lead role in forming Geneva’s proposed $63.9 million spending plan for the approaching school 12 months that raises the tax levy — the quantity to be raised by property taxes — by 3.9%. That number falls under the district’s allowable limit, a number derived through the state’s tax-cap formula.
Voters will forged their ballots on the budget and propositions, and elect two school board members, from 11 a.m. to eight p.m. Tuesday on the North Street School Mini Gym.
Expenses at all times go up for varsity districts, but one number rose at an alarming rate: medical health insurance, explained Davis and Lee during a recent meeting with the Finger Lakes Times. It’s projected to rise $1.9 million. The extra $2 million in Foundation Aid from the state essentially was worn out by the rise, they said.
Geneva is an element of a consortium of Finger Lakes school districts that purchase Excellus medical health insurance through broker Smola Consulting. Other districts are feeling similar pain.
The consortium’s pool of cash that pays for the district’s medical health insurance began to shrink in 2021 as elective surgeries — delayed during 2020 due to covid pandemic — returned, driving up expenses significantly.
“What happened is that they went through their reserves,” Lee explained.
By October 2021, Smola warned districts of massive increases coming in 2022 to shore up those reserves.
Nonetheless, healthcare will not be the one line item where the district will spend more within the proposed budget. The fee of special education will rise nearly $1.4 million.
“It’s out-of-district placements which are driving up costs,” Davis explained. “We’re seeking to see where we are able to bring students back to the district.”
And, like everyone, the price of transportation is rising. Transportation expenses are up $175,000 for 2022-23, with each fuel and contractual numbers rising.
Districts are facing across-the-board expense increases, Davis noted.
“All the pieces is up resulting from inflation,” she said.
Given the steep rise in the price of living for all residents, Davis and Lee said the district tried hard to maintain expenses down while not affecting instruction. A final round of reductions slashed $211,680 from the budget to get to the three.9% tax levy increase, a percentage point under what Geneva was allowed.
There aren’t any “lively personnel” cuts within the budget, Davis explained, but there are vacant jobs that, at this point, should not being filled.
The district also increased the cash coming from reserves to pay for the spending plan — from $745,000 in the present budget to $1.9 million in for 2022-23.
“(Forming the budget) was a heavy list this 12 months,” Davis said.
She said a goal was to depart incoming superintendent Wright with stable funds, but warned that the medical health insurance fund issue is a “two-year problem,” with an estimated 10.9% increase coming within the 2023-24 budget 12 months.
“He’s got to choose up where I left off,” she said, adding that Lee has agreed to remain on one other 12 months to help Wright within the leadership transition. “She knows the budget and what must occur.”
Davis acknowledged the community unrest that transpired at Geneva over the past school 12 months, including a $390,000 payout to Garcia as a part of a separation agreement. She is hopeful residents are joyful with the district’s direction and the alternative of Wright, a Geneva native, to steer its schools.
“I can’t tell people how one can vote,” she said. “I can say this budget is about students and learning.”