School district voters will head to the polls at all four of the district’s elementary schools on Tuesday to decide the fate of a proposed $61-million spending plan for the 2016-17 school year. The budget proposal would increase spending by 2.93 percent, but would only include a 0.12 percent bump in the local property-tax levy.
The Saugerties school board unanimously adopted the proposed budget last month less than two weeks after the New York State budget was approved. School districts got a larger aid package than in governor Andrew Cuomo’s original proposal. In January, Cuomo 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 only 1.62 percent over 2015-16.
But on April 1, overall foundation aid was increased by 136 percent in the state budget, a potential 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 state senate and 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.
Superintendent Seth Turner last month said the budget proposal adopted by the school board successfully addressed 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. District’s business administrator Lissa Jilek said in April that the increase in aid and the elimination of the GEA had 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. “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 next Tuesday, May 17. According to state law, a higher tax-levy increase would have required approval by a supermajority of at least 60 percent.
The adopted spending plan includes increases in regular teaching costs ($17.11 million, a 2.94 percent increase); programs for special education students, who Turner said comprised 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 was an instructional salary total of $56,696 for summer school, which the district is planning to run for grades 7-9; grades 10-12 would still attend BOCES-run summer school.
The cost of some expense lines will go down when 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.
Polls will be open at the four district elementary schools next Tuesday, May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The budget is available on the Saugerties schools website.