Residents of the New Paltz Central School District got their first look at the proposed 2018-19 school budget on March 21. While there were a number of questions and comments about particular lines — mainly athletics, mental health, class size and safety — board members and administrators didn’t receive much feedback on the size of this year’s spending plan, which exactly fits into the state-mandated tax cap.
The cap itself varies from year to year based on a complex formula, and it usually higher or lower than the two percent with which it is associated. This year, administrators could get away with a 3.2% tax levy increase without triggering the need for 60% of votes to be cast in favor for it to pass; they are offering a plan which is exactly that. It calls for $61,270,000 in spending, a 3.8% increase over this year. The taxpayer portion is reduced by state aid — which is estimated to go up $850,000, although final figures won’t be available until long after the May 15 vote — and $1,600,000 from the district’s fund balance.
New in this budget is a full-time elementary math specialist, a technology specialist to replace the on-site one which had been provided through BOCES, and a fourth psychologist, among others. Superintendent Maria Rice also prepared trustees for the possibility that sixth-grade enrollment may be high enough to require an additional teacher.
Adding in another psychologist would return the district to the level of several years ago. Psychologists handle crisis intervention, but also do evaluations necessary to complete individual education plans for special-needs students, of which a backlog has been building. Rice feels this is a better use for funds than a school resource officer, and despite the tone of recent conversations in the New Paltz School Talk Facebook group, those who actually showed up for the meeting appeared supportive of that choice. School psychologists are not allowed to provide ongoing therapy, but in the high school there’s a clinic several days a week provided through Astor Place. That’s paid for through insurance, although the arrangement does call for a certain amount of donated time for students whose families don’t have the ability to get the sessions covered.
Some teachers who attended expressed worries about the incoming third-grade class, which is projected at 20.9 students per teacher. Students in those classes are already struggling due to split teacher attention, trustees were told, in the face of research indicating that smaller class sizes equate to better outcomes.
Another addition is an athletic uniform replacement fund, which will be used to upgrade uniforms for all teams on a rotating basis. There were many parents of student athletes in attendance, and they were largely appreciative of a measure which they consider long overdue. However, they all brought the same message: athletics has been neglected for too long, and this is not enough. They proposed taking money left over from the capital project to construct a wellness center, which could be used for curriculum ranging from weight training to yoga and meditation, thus benefiting all students.
Rice said that such a center would cost about $300,000 per her research. It won’t be known if any borrowing power is left on the current project until 2019, making it imprudent to make any such commitments.
Some of those parents also noted that neglecting athletics in the budget is neglecting future prospects of students, because of the number who seek college scholarships based on athletic prowess. Reached later, Rice advised that the data for scholarship awards are all self-reported, “but it is not accurate since it is left up to students to report the info.”
To avoid the tax cap entirely, district officials usually offer a separate referendum asking for permission to spend money on new buses. According to Richard Linden, assistant superintendent for business, the bus question would tack on another 1.2% to the tax levy if passed. Voters will be asked to spend $480,000 on six replacement buses. When there has been no such proposition, Linden said, the maintenance cost on the fleet rises about $30,000 the following year. Rust in particular is a challenge in this region, and buses past a certain age usually can’t pass inspection and must be replaced regardless.
Trustees will adopt the final budget proposal on April 4 and hold the public hearing on May 2. That hearing is largely a formality, as they are unable by law to make changes at that point. The budget vote will occur May 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.