Saugerties school district voters will head to the polls Tuesday to have their say on the district’s $62,384,032 spending plan for the 2017-18 school year. School officials say the budget achieves the objective of moving the quality of education forward. “This is a very sound, fiscally responsible budget,” said district business manager Lissa Jilek. “Nothing is cut. New programs and courses are being added.”
Should the budget pass, overall spending will increase by around 2.19 percent. The tax-levy increase will be at the state cap, 1.56 percent. The district budget will gain public approval by a simple majority. Exceeding the state-directed cap would have required a supermajority of 60 percent.
Once the dust settled in Albany, the district found its estimated aid was $22,701,466, an increase of $861,310 over last year. That’s especially good news for a district that saw its employee insurance rise by around 15.9 percent, an increase of around $1.5 million.
School officials acknowledged that the spending plan had been made more difficult because the state budget took longer to settle than anticipated. School districts across the state were faced with the very real possibility of crafting their budgets with only governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed figures to help guide them, nearly $400,000 lower than what state lawmakers and the governor ultimately agreed to. The $153-billion state budget ultimately included $1.1 billion in increased educational spending.
Employee benefits take up more than a quarter of the district’s budget proposal, at around $17 million, an increase of 5.6 percent. Included in employee benefits are health insurance, worker’s compensation, social security, and teacher and employee retirement.
Decreases in retirement costs helped absorb some of the shock of health-insurance spikes, but Jilek last month said it can’t last forever. “New York State teachers’ retirement and New York State employees’ retirement had significant rate decreases, which helped tremendously,” she said. “But we know there are some politics involved in that …. I am concerned where the rates are going to go in the future, because I think they have been significantly understated, and I think we’re going to have a spike in retirement costs.”
Regular teaching costs represent largest portion of the spending plan, at $17.3 million, a bump of roughly one percent. That figure includes salaries, BOCES costs, contractual materials and supplies.
Elsewhere in the spending plan, $9.4 million is set aside for programs for students with disabilities, an increase of 0.3 percent; $3.8 million for transportation, up 4.6 percent; and $2.5 million in debt payments, up 0.1 percent.
Instructional support comprises 53.95 percent of the budget proposal, up a percentage point over 2016-17. Undistributed (31.64 percent), general support (7.95 percent) and transportation (6.47 percent) costs are also about the same pieces of the pie as last year.
The anticipated local tax levy is $37,771,856. The district based its estimated tax rates for 2017-18 on current assessments and equalization rates. For district propertyowners in Saugerties and Woodstock, that translates to $20.49 per $1000 of assessed value. District propertyowners in the Town of Ulster would see their tax rates an estimated $25.14 per $1000 of assessed value.
“It’s a very good solid budget,” said Jilek. “I’m very proud of this budget. It wasn’t easy to put it together. It usually comes together, but this one was pretty hard.”
Voters will head to the polls in all four district elementary schools on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In addition to voting on the budget proposal, area residents will also choose three of five contestants for positions on the school board. There are three incumbents, Krista Barringer, Damion Ferraro and Charles Schirmer, and two challengers, Susan Gage and Alex Rappaport.
The ballot will also contain two propositions school officials said will have no impact on local school taxes.
The first would authorize the district to go ahead with plans to construct a greenhouse as part of its Saugerties GROWS (Graduation Requirements through Occupational Work Study), which gives high school students opportunities to fulfill CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) requirements. The greenhouse on the high school campus will include related site improvements and the purchase of equipment, furnishings, equipment and other expenses related to the project. The estimated maximum cost of $540,000 would be paid from unappropriated and unassigned general fund balance and federal grant money.
The other proposition would authorize the school board to establish a capital reserve fund. The district is seeking approval to create a fund that would be built up on an annual basis from funds exceeding the general-fund balance limit of four percent. The district’s probable term for the fund is ten years, with an amount not to exceed $10 million.
The capital reserve fund is unrelated to the greenhouse proposal.
Polls will be open in all four of the district’s elementary schools on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.