Saugerties School Board approves retirement incentive to reduce budget

The Saugerties school board this week declined to adopt the latest draft budget for the 2019-20 school year, postponing the decision until its next meeting to ensure trustees have as much information as possible. The $65.2- million budget draft faces a shortfall of around $300,000. 

The board’s decision to hold off on adopting the budget was based in part on recommendations for staff reduction by attrition suggested by business manager Donald Gottlieb.
“The board was concerned about the cuts and didn’t feel they had enough information, so we tabled the budget until the April 24 meeting to get some additional information and hopefully get the administration to work some of the strategies they’ve outlined,” school board president Robert Thomann said.

Trustees approved a retirement incentive which would provide eligible staff a one-time payment to retire now. Those positions could either be left vacant or filled by new hires at lower salaries.

Advertisement

It was unclear how many teachers might take advantage of the retirement incentive. “We want to allow some time to see if people are taking them to see if there’s any additional cost savings,” said Thomann.
Would the incentive be enough to make up the entire budget gap? “I think it will help, but it’s hard to predict,” he replied. “You can’t force somebody to retire. We know who’s eligible to retire, but we don’t know who’s going to take advantage of that. And it’s really not our place. It’s up to them to approach the administration to find out more about the incentive and see if it meets their needs.”

A balanced budget which falls below the district’s tax cap needs only a simple majority. A budget seeking a greater tax-levy increase than prescribed by the state, in this case 1.78 percent, needs the approval of a supermajority or 60 percent or greater. The district has been successful with its spending plans in recent years, but would rather not rely on a supermajority. 

School officials had hoped for a sizable increase in state aid, but instead received a modest upward bump of around $60,000. 

“The only challenge was waiting on the state aid numbers and then not getting as much money in state aid as we were hoping for,” said interim superintendent Lawrence Mautone. “We were optimistically hoping for a significant boost in aid. However, what was approved was extremely disappointing.”

The budget has been crafted during a period of administrative flux. Superintendent Seth Turner and business manager Lissa Jilek, who created the 2018-19 spending plan, have since left the district. Mautone, the district’s full-time deputy superintendent, has served as interim superintendent since Turner left in September, while Donald Gottlieb has taken on the role of interim business manager from Warren Donohue, who briefly served in an interim capacity after Jilek’s departure. Kingston High School principal Kirk Reinhardt, recently hired as the district’s full-time superintendent, doesn’t officially take the position until July 1. 

Mautone said the administrative personnel changes didn’t adversely impact the budgeting process. “I do not think we had any different challenges than normal,” he said. “There was a seamless transition between our two interim business officials. Both have a lot of experience creating budgets. Dr. Gottlieb, who took over at the end of December, has been in our district many times in the past, and is familiar with us and the business office.”

Over the next two weeks, Mautone said, school officials will look to find ways of balancing the spending plan before the district adopts it. “We are still in the process of developing the budget,” he explained. “We are still trying to close a gap. I will be working with the administration to look at student enrollment, class sizes and course offerings. If reductions are done, we will try to make reductions that will have little or no impact on student program.”

The voters of the district overwhelmingly approved the 2018-19 budget by a vote of 663-345. The weather was believed to play a role in the relatively poor voter turnout, as rain lashed the region and cause power outages. The 2017-18 budget, which saw 1600 votes cast, passed 1104 to 496. In 2016, 1578 people voted, and the spending plan passed 1082-496.
The Ulster County Board of Elections reduced the number of voting machines Saugerties will use for its May 21 vote to four. While some other local school districts are reducing voting hours to accommodate the reduction in polling places and voting booths, school officials in Saugerties decided to keep both its locations and the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

There are 19 comments

    1. tax nightmare is coming

      Exactly! These kind of “solutions” just result in more 55-year-old retirees collecting pensions and enjoying full health care coverage on their taxed-to-death neighbor’s dime for decades. Not that noticeable when stock market is keeping pension investments up but when the next recession hits and pensions still need to pay the district will be crying catastrophe, cutting arts, music, library, raising your taxes and making you do bake sales for the least little thing.

    2. Mike

      Pensions are a promise to pay employees a fair wage later in life for work they are doing now. Teachers, who are highly educated professionals, are grossly underpaid and have earned their pensions upon retirement. Furthermore, most New York teachers these days pay into their pension accounts, so it’s not free money, it’s earned money from which they are drawing. Furthermore, pension funds are invested in stock markets, and, if managed well, should be making money, not costing money. It is worth looking into who is managing the pension funds and whether they are doing a good job.
      Fix the the problem of low pay for professional educators, then arguing that pensions are wasteful will make more sense.

      1. tax nightmare is coming

        Teachers are not “grossly underpaid.” Dozens of Saugerties teachers make six figures. Any teacher at it more than 10 years makes well above the median income for our area. Two married teachers will be pulling in over $200k by the time they’re in their 50s, with summers off, 100 percent job security, great benefits, and a gold-plated pension waiting when they retire. You may say everyone should have the same but that’s not the reality. There’s really nothing comparable in the exurbs. And years of education mean nothing- ask someone with a masters in social work (average pay around 40 grand) or a programmer (don’t even need college, can just do a boot camp, average pay 80 grand).

        There are definitely places in the country where teachers are underpaid. But this isn’t one of them. And blaming people who have no job security or retirement for being distressed when they read about their property taxes going up yet again shows you’re in a bubble.

      2. tax nightmare is coming

        Also regarding pensions: They’re in the stock market so when the stock market tanks, so do pensions, even if well managed. But the school district still has to make good on its payments, so it raises taxes and cuts programs. This is what happened in the last great recession in Saugerties. The more retirees we have, the greater the impact.

    1. Mike

      It is already “reduced.” People that work ten months get paid for ten months. It seems like they are getting paid for not working because their ten-month salaries are paid out over twelve months. No one is getting free money for not working in the schools.

      1. tax nightmare is coming

        Uh… hmmm…. well that is a new one. I guess my weekly check is “reduced” because I work for five days not seven? And if anyone who worked seven days a week for the same salary commented on the fact that I got two days off I will just nod sadly and correct them: “No, not at all my good man! My salary is reduced because I don’t work those days! Don’t envy me!”

  1. Mad As Hell

    Only a public entity with only short term thinking believe paying two people instead of one-the newly minted retiree and their replacement-is a valid solution to budget problems. This is what happens when believe you can always extract more money down the line from the sitting targets; homeowners.

    1. Mike

      A retiree’s pension (we should all be so lucky) is not the full teacher’s salary. I don’t know about Saugerties, but statewide teachers’ pensions range from 30% to 50% of ones salary. That is how money might be saved in the school district.

  2. SaugertiesTrash

    This is also a product of being pro small business and relying on tourism as your main driver. Ulster county is heading in the wrong direction. But who cares ? Good old buddies in suagerties want to keep it the same ..

  3. Been there, done that

    The issue of school budget is always a hot button topic, and I get it. Believe me, after paying my income tax, paying my school tax, and paying my county tax, I GET IT, because I surely do not believe that I am getting a fair return on my investment. However, as is common anymore, it’s always easy to take personal cheap shots at people we know nothing about. Absolutely nothing, about. A few posters above have decided that teachers are greedy, selfish, lazy and have no clue what living in the real world is about. I would venture to say that possibly you are right, about a very small number, though. On the other hand, it’s very important to also acknowledge, that for this area, a teacher does make a very good salary with very good benefits. That is a fact. Having said that, I personally respect the profession; it has been engrained in me since I was a child ( a VERY VERY long time ago) that you respect your elders, don’t sass your teachers, respect law enforcement and be a good person- yes, I know there are some pretty bad apples in the bunches of all professions, but, let’s just stop the personal attacks, and fix the problem like mature adults. It’s like watching the Republicans and Democrats fight, CONSTANTLY, and it gets old.

    1. tax nightmare is coming

      “A few posters above have decided that teachers are greedy, selfish, lazy and have no clue what living in the real world is about”

      Which posters said that? I don’t see any. All I said is teachers aren’t underpaid at all for this area. I’d venture to say they may be overpaid, based on what the taxbase can support, not so much in salary but in the entire cost per teacher over a lifetime. Other professions have had to forgo pensions and automatic raises; teachers have not. This can be frustrating when we’re the ones who have to foot the bill, especially when people claim teachers are “grossly underpaid.” I think anyone who says that is disconnected from what the private sector job market is like, whether the person saying it is a teacher or anything else.

      I would be the first to say that a good teacher is worth every penny of a six-figure salary, and then some, though our current system pays based on years of experience, not ability.

  4. Been there, done that.

    I believe my statement was “have decided” and that would be an inference on my part. I am sorry if it was implied otherwise. Not trying to argue with anyone.

  5. A RETIRED TAX PAYER

    Well pensions are one thing and have been around forever good thing.My husband and I both retired now from long working years and collecting pensions.Not with the schools .Here’s the thing WE BOTH MUST PICK UP OUR OWN HEALTHCARE ,NEITHER OF US IS COVERED ON MEDICAL BENEFITS FROM EACH OTHER.Our pensions will NEVER GO UP REMAINS THE SAME TILL DEATH. Grant it teachers have college education ,BUT society shouldn’t have to pay yearly for a profession they chose to do.Society today now is NOT receiving what the days of when used to get from a employer.We see all the time the teachers cry about making up snow days ,missing out on their spring break vacations .looking forward to the summer for a great planned vacations,how life is good .On and on and on.
    Well let me tell you for this area,we must pay for our medical,our medicare ,money taken from social security,while we witness the government just giving medical for free.I also paid into that from my weekly check,for 40 years.I don’t have a choice they are taking 135.00 from both of us,while my social security will take that hit.
    it long over due for these members of society to stop with raising of the hand and want more while some of eeh just everyday retirees must pay out more in taxes.I paid for my children and don’t mind contributing for all to get educated,even that is not the CASE since the AMERICAN CHILDREN HAVE BEEN FALLING DOWN THE LADDER WITH LOW SCORES.AMERICA once upon a time was number 1 or 4 on top.
    TIME TO VOTE NO ,STOP CRYING ABOUT THE TAXES AND PUT A STOP TO THE HIGH PAID STAFF .TIME FOR THEM TO SLICE THE PIE AND SHARE IN THE BURDEN.

  6. Andrew Cowan

    Both property and school taxes in Saugerties are outrageously high by any measure applied- based on the value of the home taxes are twice as high as they are in the most expensive to live areas in New Jersey; school taxes both as a percentage of home’s value or on a per pupil basis or far above average. In addition, the Saugerties school district for all the money it gets does not produce stand out or even average numbers in terms of college preparedness, diversity programs and a host of other benchmarks- in fact, it’s below average.

    Saugerties keeps touting the fact that the town has slightly (very slightly) reduced the tax levy amount for homeowners. This is a total smokescreen – though home owners should care about the percentage of their home value they’re paying for property taxes, the most important numbers are the actual total DOLLARS of tax they pay. Saugerties promotes a decreasing tax rate while quietly over assessing the values of residents homes; generating increased, not decreased total tax bills for its struggling residents. At the same time it delivers a below par education to its students.

  7. andrew cowan

    In regards to the comments about teachers and their compensation. Teachers several years into the career are well paid, have excellent benefits, job security and summers off. They’re not “paid for ten months” as someone noted above. They’re paid a salary for teaching for a school year. They have strong pensions, are often unionized and most importantly have chosen teaching as a career path (they aren’t drafted against their will to be teachers). Like everyone with a job they’ve actively chosen to work as an educator. I appreciate the work they do without question. I do think that tenure, life long benefits and pension packages work against them having to remain competitive and productive over the course of their career however, often at the student’s detriment. In all other career’s employees have to regularly face the chance of dismissal for poor performance yet in teaching they don’t. Compensation and job security should simply be tied to student and school performance scores/results. Somehow though raising this topic of accountability with regard to teachers is usually met with outrage and indignation and the teacher’s union staunchly posturing that to do so is an outrage. Why?

  8. Been there, done that

    Excellent points, Andrew Cowan, and I agree. I will also offer this- the idea that a tenured teacher cannot be removed is incorrect. Tenure is a due process. It most certainly can happen but there is a procedure which involves compiling the evidence and data to support it and prove it. Is it costly? Perhaps, especially if the targeted employee is represented by union or otherwise approved legal counsel. But, it can be done, and it has been done and I would say, should be done more often. Also, it takes three years to be granted tenure and during that 3 year probationary period a good administrator should be able to “weed” out those who don’t belong in the profession. And, when previously tenured teachers begin their downward spiral, and it becomes evident they are not doing the job they are paid well to do, Teacher Improvement Plans (TIP) should be put into place. If no improvement is shown, dismissal proceedings should begin. Again, a good administrator has a lot of power in this regard. Just a thought to consider.

Post Your Thoughts