Onteora voters will decide on $57.4 million budget with 3 percent tax levy

Residents of the Onteora school district will vote on the proposed $57,403,498

budget for the coming school year on Tuesday, May 21, as well as a separate proposal to use $6,160,000 from the district’s capital reserves to bring bathrooms and other facilities into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, repair the Bennett Elementary Roof and improve athletic facilities. While there was no public to comment at the state-mandated public hearing on May 7, members of the board and administration say they have been presenting the budget to PTAs, local towns and senior groups.

Here is a summary of the numbers:

The upcoming budget is $1,825,920, or 3.28 percent, higher than last year’s $55,577,578.


The proposed tax levy, $43,848,763, is 2.95 percent higher than last year’s $42,591,819. The maximum allowable increase is actually 3.04 percent, $39,000 higher than what is proposed, but after a “formula error” in an earlier proposal put the number at 2.95 percent, the district went with that, Superintendent Victoria McLaren said, because the tax levy limit “is perceived as a percentage.”

“We wanted to honor that,” she said, adding that more state aid could further reduce the levy.  “If given the opportunity, we will lower the burden on the taxpayers,” she said.

$2,515,620 would already be appropriated through a fund balance to reduce the tax levy, along with $750,000 for additional capital work on the chemistry lab, press box and bleachers.

Transportation spending would go up $691,641, as part of the winning bid by First Student, which beat out the current provider, Arthur F. Mulligan. The district estimates spending $3,202,172 next year getting students to and from school, $144,000 on field trips and sports trips and $128,763 for summer school. 

Transportation makes up 8.54 percent of the total budget. Just under half, 48.3 percent, will be spent on instruction, and just under a third, 31.05 percent, on employee benefits. Board President Kevin Salem said the healthcare costs for the district have risen over the years, something he describes as “an American problem.” At the board’s April 24 meeting, superintendent McLaren said the number of active employees and retirees in the district is “almost equal.” Trustee Bennet Ratcliff said the district is “having to pay more because we’re being gouged in our insurance rates and medical costs.” Operations and maintenance takes up 5.01 percent. Debt service and interfund transfers make up 3.64 percent, as does general support. 

If the budget does not receive 50 percent of the vote, the district can change it, or not, and it can be put to a vote again on June 18. If it fails again, a contingency budget will be implemented: the tax levy would remain at last year’s amount of $42,591,819, a potential loss of $1,295,944 in revenue, according to a page in the district’s presentation that uses the 3.04 percent levy limit figure. The district would also not be allowed to purchase equipment, for which it has proposed $217,555, fees would be charged for use of facilities, and the property tax rebate would be disallowed, according to the district proposal.

Salem said the budget “reflects our commitment to our kids.”

“Our priorities are excellence and diversity for our students,” he added.

Where and when to vote

The May 21 vote on the budget, as well as for two open board seats, will take place between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Bennett, Phoenicia and Woodstock Schools. The West Hurley fire house is no longer a polling place. 

Any qualified voter can vote in any of the three elementary schools: Woodstock, Bennett (in Boiceville) and Phoenicia.