Voters in the Kingston City School District on Tuesday will decide the fate of a $175,032,027 budget proposal for the 2018-19 school year that would increase the local property tax levy by 2.62 percent and increase overall spending by 3.21 percent.
The spending plan represents an increase of $5,450,486 over the current school year’s budget, but it comes with a tax levy increase nearly a full percentage point lower than the state-mandated cap of 3.56 percent.
“We are almost a percentage point below the tax levy limit without losing any of the programs or the personnel that we have in place that have helped us make the gains that we have over the past several years,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “Smaller class sizes K-2, the support of our embedded professional development coaches, the advanced placement courses, the college courses, athletics; we were able to keep everything that we have and still be responsible to local taxpayers.”
Padalino said that the budget proposal hits the mark on the district’s annual ideal.
“Our goal is to balance the needs of our students with our community’s values and their ability to pay,” he said. “We know we have to deliver a world-class education, but we have to be efficient and we have to be considerate of the people who pay for it.”
Most increases in the budget proposal were relatively small, including employee benefits, which rose 1.6 percent, or regular school teaching costs, up 0.6 percent. But the district is also planning to increase spending an additional $1 million on special education, an increase of around 10 percent. Back on April 4, Padalino noted that the cost increase is important in providing the best education for students with disabilities.
“When we look at what special education is costing the school district, it’s a lot,” he said. “We spend a lot of money in support of our students with disabilities, as we should. We need to make sure students are getting what they need.”
Padalino credited the school board, which adopted the budget proposal on Wednesday, April 18, as well as the district’s business office for their roles in putting the pieces together.
“They watch every nickel and they make sure that we aren’t spending money on things that aren’t having an impact on kids,” Padalino said. “Every dollar represents doing something for kids and they get that.”
Continuity is the keyword for next year’s school board as well, as the three incumbents seeking reelection — Robin Jacobowitz, James Shaughnessy and Danielle Guido — will be on the ballot unopposed on Tuesday, May 15.
Jacobowitz’s board committee involvements include the Diversity Cadre, the Teaching and Learning Committee, and the District Leadership Team.
Shaughnessy, at one time the board president, is also a member of the Ulster BOCES Board of Education. In the KCSD he serves as chair of the Audit Committee, and is a member of both the Jefferson Committee and the District Comprehensive Improvement Plan Committee.
Guido is a member of the district’s Health and Wellness Committee, the Jefferson Committee and the Legislative Action Committee.
Other ballot measures
According to Padalino, two other ballot measures are philosophically linked.
In the first, voters will be asked to approve the creation of a new capital reserve fund, in part to hold the proceeds from the sale of the Cioni Building. Using the reserve fund in the future would also require voter approval.
In the second measure, the district will ask voters for approval to spend up to $16 million on capital projects at M. Clifford Miller Middle School, and both John F. Kennedy and Harry L. Edson elementary schools. The money would come from a combination of capital reserves and state building aid, and school officials stressed that the project would come at no additional cost to local taxpayers.
“The use of the capital reserve fund sort of speaks to why people should vote for the new one,” Padalino said. “We’re able to take the money that’s in the capital reserve, kind of marry that to our state aid and do $16 million worth of work at no additional cost to the taxpayers.”
At Edson, the district sees the need for selective site improvements, including concrete walkways and paving, window replacements, and mechanical upgrades.
JFK is also in need of site improvements, school officials believe, including walkway, ashpalt and masonry repairs. Windows and main entrance upgrades are also in the plan, as are selective mechanical upgrade, emergency lighting, and the need for a new elevator to bring it into ADA compliance.
Miller shares the same general need for site improvements, window replacement and emergency lighting, Padalino said, and they also need to replace old electric panel boards. And there are also plans for much needed work in the auditorium, said the superintendent.
“When we use our capital reserve we don’t use it for fancy things,” said Padalino. “We use it for roofs. We use it for plumbing, heating, windows, things that keep our buildings warm, safe, clean, healthy for kids.”
And finally, voters will also be asked to authorize the district to enter into negotiations with the City of Kingston to give up their half ownership of Dietz Stadium, allowing the city to use grant funds for up to $3 million in renovations and improvements. Padalino stressed that the ballot measure is not about whether to give up the district’s rights to Dietz, but rather to negotiate with the city about them.
“It’s so important that people understand that,” Padalino said. “It’s not a done deal. We’re not asking voters to approve a deal. There is no deal. This is asking the voters to give the Board permission to negotiate a possible deal to transfer our portion of the ownership over to the city.”
Padalino added that no deal would be made that would decrease the district’s access to the facility.
“Honestly, and I’ve said this to the mayor, anything that would diminish our current use and rights at Dietz would not be OK,” Padalino said. “We wouldn’t go forward. It’s either going to be better for us or the same. It won’t be less and it won’t be worse.”
Polls will be open on Tuesday, May 15 from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. in all seven of the district’s elementary schools. For more information, including how to figure out which school you vote in, visit: www.kingstoncityschools.org/domain/676