Oswego only local school district on comptroller’s fiscal stress list

By Debra J. Groom

The Oswego City School District is the only district in Oswego County on the list of fiscally distressed districts issued last week by the state Comptroller’s office.

According to a news release from the Comptroller’s office, the fiscal stress scores are based on financial information submitted as part of each district’s ST-3 report filed with the state Education Department as of Dec. 13, 2013.

The list includes more than 700 school districts in New York state. A total of 587 were classified as “no designation, which means their level of fiscal stress had not reached a critical level.

The levels of stress listed by the Comptroller’s report were significant fiscal stress (the highest level of stress), moderate fiscal stress and susceptible to fiscal stress. Oswego City School District was listed under the susceptible to fiscal stress category.

“We have received this report and are reviewing the data to better understand the declaration,” said Benjamin Halsey, Oswego superintendent. “We will use this report to assist with budget decisions going forward.”

According to the Comptroller’s office, a district was reviewed for financial indicators, such as how well the district generates enough money to meet its expenditures, and environmental indicators, such as trends outside a district’s control that can affect its budget and revenue-raising capabilities.

The Comptroller’s office used only the financial indicators to determine whether a district would be placed on the fiscal stress list.

The other districts in Oswego County — Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, Central Square, Fulton, Hannibal, Mexico, Phoenix, Pulaski and Sandy Creek  — received no designation.

According to a report issued with the fiscal stress scores, school districts found to be in fiscal stress share a number of common characteristics. Most are operating with low fund balance, operating deficits and limited cash on hand. These districts

Of the top 10 districts found to be in the worst fiscal stress, only the Utica City School District (number 10) is in the Central New York region.

The district with the worst stress, according to the report, is Watervliet, outside Albany. The rest of the top 10 includes three districts from Western New York, two from Long Island, two from the Mid-Hudson region and one from the North Country (General Brown Central School).

The report also found:

• High-need urban/suburban school districts were three times more likely to be considered in fiscal stress compared to low-need districts;

• Upstate school districts were more likely to be in some level of stress compared to downstate districts; and

•  Regions with the highest percentage of stressed school districts were Central New York (22.9 percent of districts); North Country (16.9 percent) and Western New York (13.9 percent).

The report did not include scores for the “Big Four”cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. Information for these districts will be incorporated into the scoring for their respective cities and reported by the Comptroller later this year.

The Comptroller’s office also has looked at the fiscal stress levels of New York state’s municipalities. As reported earlier, the city of Fulton is listed as moderate stress. Another Oswego County municipality on the list is the town of Parish, which is listed as susceptible to fiscal stress.

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