Saugerties voters will be offered a pretty straightforward decision this May – should athletics, elementary instrumental music, and extracurricular activities be included in next year’s school budget or not?
According to Superintendent Seth Turner, the cost of those three items is just under $700,000, which is the difference between the proposed $55.1 million school budget and the state-mandated austerity budget that would kick in if the budget fails.
The proposed budget would raise taxes 10 percent, and austerity would raise taxes 7.9 percent.
The proposed budget would increase the school taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home in Saugerties by $314.
Under austerity, that same homeowner would see a tax increase of $248.
Turner cautioned the board against setting a budget lower than the austerity amount because that could jeopardize federal aid. The district is due to receive $836,204 through a jobs bill passed last fall.
Both budgets would lay off five teachers. These positions can be eliminated without losing student programs, said Turner.
The superintendent said it would be possible to retain athletics, music, and extracurricular programs – but only if something else is cut. He said it was about choice.
“There are athletic programs outside of the school building,” said Turner. “Someone can elect to participate. If we elect, for example, to close a school, we are not giving people a choice.”
Turner says that last week’s state aid cuts in the governor’s budget proposal were skewed by the inclusion of the federal numbers. In Saugerties, state aid is projected to be reduced by 9 percent, or $1.75 million. The district expects to receive $17.9 million in state aid for the 2011-2012 school year, down from $19.6 million this year. He attributes a little over half of the increase in tax levy to this reduction in aid.
But these numbers aren’t set in stone. The Legislature still needs to okay the governor’s budget. Usually that means more aid for schools, but this year local educators aren’t taking this for granted. Other local factors include kindergarten and special ed registration, and the fate of No Child Left Behind.
The superintendent said the situation today is much better than a year ago.
“The darkest days for Saugerties Central School District are behind us,” said Turner. “From this day forward, the bleeding has stopped and it’s time to move on.”