Budget increase for 2017-18 school year in New Paltz capped at 1.2 percent

At their recent regular meeting on Wednesday, March 1, the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education heard the first budget presentation for the 2017-18 school year from schools Superintendent Maria Rice and Assistant Superintendent for Business Richard Linden.

The tax levy limit is 1.2 percent this year. Linden pointed out that the “two percent tax cap” required by the state to pass a budget with a simple majority of 50-percent-plus-one is not really two percent because it is dependent upon a complex formula that includes calculating in the Consumer Price Index (CPI); last year the tax levy limit was a negative number. The 1.2 percent tax levy limit is the total tax levy, Linden reminded the board, with individual tax rates controlled by assessments and equalization rates, which are not known until August.

The administrators presented the board with three different options they consider viable for developing a budget. Trustees now need to consider whether any of these three options are what they’d like to present to voters on Tuesday, May 16. Alternatively, they can combine elements of the budget options presented or create an entirely different proposal. In addition to incorporating their own ideas, the Board of Education would like to hear from community members at a public budget forum held at the high school on Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m.

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The first option for a budget as presented by the superintendents comes in at the tax levy limit of 1.2 percent, passable with a simple majority but involving what were termed “severe reductions” to the program. The second alternative presented comes in at a two percent tax levy with a third option carrying a 2.6 percent tax levy. The second and third options, two percent or 2.6, would require a 60 percent voter approval.

There will not be a separate bus proposition this year. Unlike last year, when the necessity of buying district vehicles added another 1.2 percent to the budget, there will be no additional figures added to the 2017-18 base budget’s total. Rice said that after reviewing the state of the district’s bus fleet with Maureen Ryan, director of transportation for the district, it was determined that under the district’s ten-year replacement plan, no new buses or vans need to be purchased this year.

The budget proposal presented at a 2.6 percent tax levy will keep all the school programs currently in place intact, said Rice. The team of administrators working on the budget proposals decided on the figures, she said, based on looking at class sizes. The high school will receive an additional 51 students next year, and a 2.6 percent tax levy budget would provide two additional teachers to accommodate that population. The subjects taught by those teachers would be decided after high school principal Barbara Clinton determined what student needs will be.

In grade six, where class sizes are currently running at approximately 24 students per class, a 2.6 percent tax levy budget would increase the staff by one teacher because of the total number of students going up in that grade, but it’s a wash, said Rice, because the district will need one less in grades 3-5. A library media specialist position would be restored under this budget as well, allowing elementary school children more access to the library that was lost when the media specialist position was cut from the budget two years ago. The 2.6 percent budget also eliminates spending of $70,000 for equipment.

With a two-percent tax levy budget, still requiring the 60 percent voter approval rate because it goes over the 1.2 percent established this year, will add only one teacher for the high school to accommodate the additional 51 students coming in. The library media specialist in the elementary schools would not be restored.

Budgeting for the special education program requires maintaining a reserve for hiring teachers and aides, said Rice, but because the program is fluid, depending on the number of children in the district requiring those services, the exact dollar amounts needed are not known yet until enrollment for the 2017-18 year is completed.

If the board elects to present the 1.2 percent budget that comes in under the tax cap and meets the 50-percent-plus-one voter approval rate, it will eliminate the addition of the two teachers at the high school as well as a middle school teacher, where class sizes are large, currently running at approximately 35 students per class. The library media specialist position would not be restored, and a guidance counselor position at the middle school would be eliminated. The 1.2 percent budget also requires eliminating $50,000 from JV sports, with only varsity and modified offered.

Class sizes in the elementary schools for the 2017-18 school year are projected to remain stable, at 20-21 for kindergarten, 22-23 in first grade, 23-24 for grades two through four, 22-23 for fifth grade and 24 in grade six.

On the revenue side of the budget, a 1.2 percent budget would bring in $40,600,000; a 2.0 percent budget $40,940,000; and a 2.6 percent budget $41,150,000. Local revenue would add $1,045,000 in all scenarios, with a slight reduction in the BOCES refund this time around. State aid will be determined when the state budget is announced, but is projected to be $15,395,000 based on the executive budget proposal.

All of the budgets include increasing the use of the appropriated fund balance by $500,000. In past years the budget has incorporated $1,000,000 in fund balance, but this year’s will require $1,500,000, with the only alternatives, said Linden, raising the $500,000 through taxes or reducing the program by that amount.

The total budget with a 1.2 percent tax levy would be $58,540,000. A two percent tax levy would result in a budget of $58,880,000 and a 2.6 budget would come to a budget of $59,090,000 placed before voters.

In their discussion after the presentation by the superintendents, the trustees seem to have eliminated the idea of a 1.2 percent budget as cutting too much of the program. Before determining the final budget proposal, they say they would like to hear from the community how much it matters to residents if a guidance counselor is lost or if the library media specialist position is restored.

The budget forum will take place at the high school on Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. A final budget proposal will be adopted by the BOE on April 5 and presented to voters on May 16.

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