Saugerties’ school board adopted a $61-million budget for the 2016-17 school year this week, a proposal which includes a 2.93 percent spending increase but only a 0.12 percent bump in the local property-tax levy.
The budget was adopted less than two weeks after the New York State budget was approved, giving school districts a much more favorable aid package than governor Andrew Cuomo’s original proposal. in January. Cuomo had detailed a proposed state budget that would have given the district an aid package of $21,694,119. Without building aid, the total came in at $19,317,258, an increase of 1.62 percent over 2015-16.
But on April 1, overall foundation aid was increased, a big boon for districts like Saugerties. Changes also included the immediate cessation of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), instituted in 2010-11 by the governor to overcome a budget deficit by decreasing state aid to school districts. Cuomo had hoped to see it phased out over a two-year period, but the legislature pushed for – and won – the immediate end of the GEA.
In Saugerties, the GEA was initially slated to cost the district around $630,000 in projected revenue. But as of last Friday, the vast majority of that figure was restored. With a GEA of $1,039,286, the restoration amount came to $982,761 in the state’s final tally.
At a meeting of the school board this Tuesday, April 12, district business manager Lissa Jilek was very enthusiastic about the end of the GEA. “Woo-hoo, the wicked witch of the GEA is dead,” she said. “Yay! The law which established the GEA will now read, ‘The gap elimination adjustment for the 2016-17 school year and thereafter shall equal zero.’”
Jilek added that the state budget agreement includes a provision that would make it very difficult to bring back in the future. “In order to continue or resurrect the Gap Elimination Adjustment, it would be necessary for the Senate and Assembly to pass a new bill and the governor to sign it,” she said. “So even if there is a point where the state [has a] need of cash and is looking to go back to school districts to help fund their budget gap, there would have to be a brand=new law passed.”
Superintendent Seth Turner said the budget proposal adopted by the school board successfully addresses district priorities. “The priorities for the 2016-17 budget of course are student needs; consideration of the economic climate and local impact; facility maintenance, including safety, security, technology and site work; and planning for long-term fiscal health,” said Turner.
The proposed spending plan includes a $37.19 million property-tax levy, an increase of $43,203.
Jilek said that the increase in aid and the elimination of the GEA allowed the district to reduce the local impact from a tax-levy increase closer to 0.23 percent, the number the district was anticipating at its last budget presentation on March 28. “So taxes will go up minimally,” Jilek said on Tuesday. “Very, very small tax increase. And again, it is less than what the tax cap is required for the district.”
By coming in below the state-mandated tax cap, the 2016-17 budget proposal will only require the approval of a simple majority when voters head to polls across the district on May 17. A higher tax levy would have required approval by a super=majority of at least 60 percent.
The adopted spending plan includes increases in regular education teaching costs ($17.11 million, a 2.94 percent increase); programs for special education students, who Turner said comprise about 18 percent of the student population ($9.39 million, a 9.7 percent increase), contract transportation ($3.64 million, a 0.23 percent increase); plant operations ($2.04 million, a 3.1 percent increase); supervision of regular school ($1.13 million, an increase of 6.47 percent); and general support ($922,369, an increase of 17.18 percent.)
Among the new expenditures is an instructional salary total of $56,696 for summer school, which the district is planning to run for grades seven through nine. Grades ten through twelve would still attend BOCES-run summer school.
“The last time we ran summer school was 2007 for budgetary reasons,” said assistant superintendent Laurence Mautone in March. “I anticipate we would need a principal, a secretary, a nurse, approximately nine teachers, and possibly one or two support staff. That would run from July 11 through approximately August 16, and then the Regents exams are August 17 and 18.”
Some expense lines will go down compared to the 2015-16 budget. Employee benefits ($16.09 million, an 0.82 percent decrease), debt service ($2.49 million, a 1.14 percent decrease) and occupational education ($1.53 million, a decrease of 13.17 percent) will all cost less in 2016-17.
With the school board adopting the budget, the district was on the clock to submit its property-tax report card to the state within 24 hours.
On Tuesday, May 10, the district will hold a public hearing on its 2016-17 budget proposal.