Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cut $1.5 billion from the state’s $20 billion-plus school aid pie could lead to increased taxes and program cuts in Saugerties.
“This is going to raise the stress level a bit in the district,” said Trustee Steven Haun. “The less money the state provides, the more we have to find. We could cut jobs or reduce programs, or we could increase the tax burden. There are no good answers.”
The Saugerties share of the cut would be $2.2 million. Total aid would be $17.8 million, a 10.9 percent decrease over last year’s $20 million. A preliminary 2011-12 budget prepared last month using last year’s state aid figure came in $55.1 million and carried a 7.6 percent tax increase. The budget restored cuts made last year to athletics, music, art and extra-curricular activities. Haun said it might not be realistic for the board to put up a budget that included those programs if these state aid numbers hold up.
But as School Board Vice President Tom Ham pointed out, this is not the final budget: the state Legislature has to sign off on that. Usually the legislature adds school aid. Usually.
“At the very least, the legislators will probably rattle some sabers and make it look like they’re trying to restore aid, but that’s not a popular thing to do right now, so they may not try very hard,” said Ham.
Haun reiterated his stance that a wage freeze or concessions by the district’s unions may help this cause. (Contract negotiations between the Saugerties Teachers Association and the board have been ongoing since the previous contract expired last June.)
In his budget presentation, Cuomo suggested likewise. He said lay-offs and program cuts could be avoided if wages were frozen or reduced, school employees paid a greater share of health insurance costs and district consolidation was pursued.
In a release the New York State United Teachers called proposed budget a “recipe for a devastating impact on public schools and higher education” that would be especially troubling if the 2.2 percent property tax cap proposed by Cuomo and passed by the state Senate were to be signed into law.
“These proposed cuts are significant and, if enacted, would impact the classroom both directly and indirectly,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “I can’t say that we share the executive’s belief that a cut in state aid this significant – coming on top of a nearly $1.9 billion decrease over the previous two years – can be absorbed without teacher layoffs and the loss of other important education professionals.”
Saugerties was not alone among local districts affected by the proposed cuts: Kingston would lose $3.5 million (7.1 percent); Onteora, $1.7 million (19 percent).
Cuomo photo by Pat Arnow