According to Kingston City School District officials, the district is nearly twice as far away from balancing the 2017-18 budget than they first thought, as there’s a roughly $1.1 million chasm between a rollover plan and the state-mandated tax levy cap.
Sometimes the school budget process seems to move at a glacial pace, and other times it all happens in the blink of an eye. Such was the case with the budget update, when a bit of bad news on insurance premiums came so late in the day last week that Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Business Allen Olsen didn’t have time to update the numbers before making a presentation to the school board.
“At about 5:15 today, we were informed that our largest health care plan, the one that serves the teachers, is going to increase by several percent more than our wildest imagination allowed us to think,” said Olsen at the March 8 school board meeting.
According to Olsen, the increase in insurance premiums for the Kingston Teachers’ Federation (KTF) will be 13.3 percent, or roughly $460,000. The district will spend around $35.5 million on health insurance in 2017-18.
“Health insurance eats up about 21 percent of the budget of this district,” Olsen said. “More than one out of every five dollars we spend is spent on health insurance either for active employees or retirees. It’s quite a sum, and obviously an issue in the country … We’re still waiting on health insurance numbers from a couple of our other plans, and we’ve taken some guesses as to how much those might change, and we hope those don’t hurt us.”
Olsen said it’s unlikely the state legislature will help the district bridge the entire $1.1 million gap with a state aid bump over what Governor Andrew Cuomo has already proposed. This means making cuts or finding revenue elsewhere. Of course the preliminary spending plan, a roughly $169 million proposal, simply rolls over the 2016-17 budget without making any changes. In the budget’s current incarnation, the local tax levy would increase by around 2.42 percent; the state has set its tax cap increase at 1.35 percent. Going over the tax cap would require approval from a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters, but school officials have repeatedly said they don’t plan to go that route.
“We are going to create a budget that balances for the district,” Olsen said. “How we’re going to do that remains to be seen somewhat, but we will get there.”
Part of the process, school officials said, involves seeing what happens next. The governor’s budget proposal includes around $890,000 outside of expense-based aid, of which $393,000 in unrestricted foundation aid, an increase of 0.9 percent over 2015-16; and $497,000 is Community Schools Aid, which may come with as-yet-unexplained directives. Olsen said the district was unlikely to get an explanation until the state’s budget is set.
Olsen said he expected to know more by a pair of upcoming budget forums in the works for the last week of March and the first week of April. There’s also a budget-specific school board meeting for Wednesday, April 5.