The Saugerties school board this week declined to adopt a $63,964,998 budget for the 2018-19 school year. The decision not to adopt was primarily because trustees wanted more time to have their questions answered.
School officials believe the budget will be adopted unchanged during a special meeting next Wednesday, April 18. That meeting will also see the vote on the annual Boces budget and election of members to the county cooperative.
School officials said the budget was balanced in part by tapping into reserves and fund balance and laying off three part-time teachers. The spending plan comes with a 2.53 percent tax levy increase, the maximum possible without having to resort to approval from a supermajority of 60 percent or greater at the polls.
The proposed budget rose at roughly the same pace as the tax levy, a 2.534 percent increase, or more than a million and a half dollars over the 2017-18 budget.
According to business manager Lissa Jilek, the budget plan was difficult to craft for a variety of reasons, including one of the lowest state-aid increases in Ulster County for Saugerties. “We only received $178,643 increase in state aid,” said Jilek. “That was a net of 0.79 percent increase.”
Jilek said she wasn’t necessarily surprised. “I’ve had many folks come to me and say, ‘Well, how come other school districts got more?’” she said. “If you look at the individual aid categories for other (districts) it all relates to building aid. And it’s because they’re doing building projects, so they’re going to get more building aid.”
The district had hoped for a bigger jump after lawmakers added school money to the governor’s budget, as they almost always do. In Cuomo’s plan, Saugerties would have received an increase of just $72,942. But even though the district received more than double that amount in the state budget that was finalized late last month, it wasn’t enough to overcome some significant gaps in the budget.
“We have obviously struggled,” said Jilek. “We’ve struggled because of the limited amount of state aid, and we’ve struggled because of rising health insurance costs.”
In addition to the loss of three part-time teaching positions, Jilek said a retiring social-studies teacher will be replaced next year.
“We do have a balanced budget,” Jilek said. “We have balanced this budget by looking at those folks who are retiring and not replacing one position. We have had several other retirements, and we are replacing them, obviously, at a much lower cost, so we have savings there.”
Jilek noted that the budget maintains all current programs, giving students consistency from year to year. “We’re looking at alternatives regarding instruction, how to provide the same programs,” she said. “We’re not cutting any programs, but just tightening up services. We’re still going to have summer school, we’re still going to offer pre-K because that’s a grant. So no programs changed and nothing has decreased.”
Other cost-saving options are being explored. “We are looking at some services we purchase through Boces,” Jilek said. “We’re looking at perhaps bringing those services back in house. And I can’t discuss that further because it’s a personnel issue. But we’re looking at how we purchase services and if we can do better ourselves.”
The budget proposal includes a boost from an employee-benefits reserve account. “That reserve exists specifically to pay those contractual benefits when folks retire,” Jilek explained. “We have $504,000 in that account. We’re going to decrease it by $75,000, and we’re going to apply that to our revenues. So that’s a good thing. We’re using it for its intended purpose.”
The district would also tap further into its fund balance than it did for the 2017-18 budget should the 2018-19 spending plan pass. “We have to apply more fund balance, so we’re going from $785,222, which was the applied fund balance in the current 17-18 budget, to a proposed amount of $1,150,804, which is a dollar increase of $365,582.”
The district tax cap was set at a 2.53 percent increase by the state for the 2018-19 school year, which would be an increase of almost a million dollars for a total levy of $38.7 million.
The 2018-19 budget proposal will go before district voters on Tuesday, May 15. Three school-board members will be chosen. Ending their current three-year terms are board president Robert Thomann, vice-president James Mooney and trustee Mike Maclary. Petitions for school-board hopefuls must be submitted to district headquarters by next Monday afternoon, April 16.
The district will hold a special budget hearing on Tuesday, May 8.