Applause broke out among those gathered to hear the results of the school budget vote in Highland on Tuesday night: The Highland Central School District’s proposed 2014-2015 budget of $39,961,276 million passed by a 63.5 percent majority — 799 in favor to 457 opposed.
The Highland district’s budget meets the criteria of the state’s tax levy limit legislation and therefore needed a simple majority approval of 50 percent plus one vote to pass.
Voters also approved Proposition 2, which allows for the purchase of school buses, by a margin of 785 to 464. Proposition 3, which replaces aged maintenance equipment, also passed easily with 766 voters for it, 468 against.
Highland voters also marked their ballots for two candidates to fill the two trustee seats opening up on the Board of Education. Returning former Highland board member Heather Welch was the highest vote-getter with 813 votes that return her to the seat she first filled in 2011. Incumbent Alan Barone was returned for his fifth term on the board with 795 votes. Both seats carry three-year terms that begin July 1.
While the budget calls for a 3.5 percent tax levy increase over the current budget, homeowners eligible for the STAR tax exemption will see the increased cost refunded to them in the fall in the form of a rebate check from the state under its new Tax Freeze program. The Tax Freeze Credit is a new state-enacted benefit for the 2014-2015 school year and will apply the following year as well if the district continues to stay within the allowable tax levy limit and develops an efficiency plan. The two-year rebate program is designed to encourage school districts and municipalities to stay within the tax levy limit threshold for a simple majority voter approval. It does not replace the STAR exemption; it is a benefit in addition to savings through the STAR program.
The budget allows the district to maintain all current student programs and accommodates the return to a nine-period day at the middle school by adding a math and technology teacher. The restoration of a nine-period day allows time for students to complete state-mandated coursework and increases science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction. The budget includes the initial investment in the new Energy Performance Contract to make the facilities more sustainable and reduce energy consumption, which will result in savings in future years.