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July 2, 2014

New Castle board adopts budget despite uncertainty

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle school board adopted its 2014-15 budget Monday but may have to re-open it next week.

The $5.4 million budget, introduced in May, has no tax increase and will not tap into the fund balance. Taxes remain at 17.72 mills.

But officials said the state waited until the last minute to inform them the district will get $451,152 less than the preliminary budget estimate.

Although the state budget remained in limbo Tuesday, superintendent John Sarandrea said the district was legally obligated to pass a budget by that date.

He said the budget can be re-opened at the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, if necessary. “Once we find out what we’re getting or not getting, we can make firm decisions.”

Joe Ambrosini, district business manager, said the preliminary budget listed New Castle as receiving $727,490 in basic education funds. This week the district received word it would get $276,338.

Sarandrea said he is looking at ways to make up for the loss. He said these could include not replacing some retirees, deferring major spending for technology and some other actions.

The district also will start advertising Wednesday for sale of closed school buildings, he said, and by later this month, officials will have a better idea “of where we are at.”

He added the district would be looking at a $2 million deficit if it had not closed schools and consolidated buildings. In addition, the staff has been reduced by 25 employees.

The superintendent said the late word has left the district few options.

“Districts are really stuck right now,” Ambrosini said, adding, “So many decisions are based on a preliminary budget.”

Sarandrea said he is not agreeable to dipping in the fund balance to make up the shortfall because it is getting “dangerously low.” That balance was expected to be $14,458,264 as this school year ended.

One area of concern, he said, is “we can’t let our scores go any lower,” because this will drive more students to private schools, taking even more money out of the district’s budget.

Ambrosini said after the meeting that even with the reduced basic education figures, the district will receive more overall state funding than it did for the 2014-15 school year. He said the district receives approximately $31 million annually in state funds and $10 million in local tax funds.

The vote on the budget was 7-0, with Barbara Razzano and Mark Kirkwood absent.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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