|Final Audit Report|
August 5, 2016—The Cohoes City School District received its final report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office summarizing findings of an audit on the district’s fiscal operations from July 2012 through June 2015. The examination resulted in no findings of material weakness, operational improprieties, waste or abuse. The audit report did indicate that the school district’s unrestricted fund balance exceeded the statutory limit of 4 percent, and ranged from 5.5 to 7.6 percent of the ensuing year’s budget appropriations.
The unrestricted fund balance was over the limit during the audit time period primarily due to under-spending budgeted funds and the implementation of various cost-savings initiatives.
Employee benefits, which can be affected by medical emergencies, long-term illnesses and catastrophic claims, and utility and energy expenses, which are seasonal and can fluctuate from year to year, are both variable in nature and lead to limited control over actual expenses. These areas are challenging to forecast and led to under-spending.
Forecasting revenues and expenses
As a high-need small city school district, Cohoes relies heavily on state aid revenues. More than half of all annual revenue comes from state and federal aid, and about 36 percent comes from local property taxes.
During the audit time period—between July 2012 and June 2015—the district lost more than $4 million from reductions in state aid through the imposed Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). To avoid financial distress, the district made significant reductions to staff and programs, and also pursued opportunities to maximize efficiencies and reduce expenditures.
In 2014, a new vendor contract for pharmaceuticals saved the district $290,000. This efficiency was documented in the district’s government efficiency plan, which was approved by the New York State Division of Budget in 2015, and led to qualifying Cohoes homeowners receiving a tax credit.
Also in 2015, the district was awarded a State Department of Education Expanded PreK grant which added two new classrooms for 4 year-olds, increasing capacity to 108 students at no cost to tax payers.
Reducing the unrestricted fund balance
Prior to receiving the final report, the district had already begun correcting the surplus in unrestricted fund balance. In the 2016-17 school year, the operating budget was built “from scratch” to more effectively and efficiently determine approximate expenses. The district also implemented a new budget management system and instituted a formal budget committee to review the line item budget.
The 2016-17 district budget also carried a 0 percent tax levy increase and was approved by voters on May 19.
“We keep all of our constituents at the forefront of our decision-making,” said School Business Official Stacy Mackey. “Our goal is to continue to maximize the efficiency of our resources and provide quality programming that supports all of our students so they are prepared for success when they graduate.”
The complete audit report, as well as the district’s response, is available for public review during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at the District Office, located at 7 Bevan Street in Cohoes.
For more information, please contact the School Business Official at 237-0100, Extension 2360.
Story updated August 10, 2016.