Saugerties school officials have been working on the preliminary district budget for the 2020-21 school year. It’s the first spending plan assembled by superintendent Kirk Reinhardt and business manager Jane St. Amour, both new to the district within the past year.
Crafting a multi-million-dollar school district budget requires balancing the needs of the students with the ability of local taxpayers to foot their share of the bill. St. Amour said that working from the framework of an inherited spending plan presents a further layer of challenges. The way former business manager Lissa Jilek approached a spending plan may have been different than how St. Amour does, and the 2019-20 budget was created during a period of transition, with business matters conducted by two interim managers.
“There’s a lot to look at and adjustments to make based on past trends, so there could be many things different than what happened in the past,” said St. Amour. “It’s my first year doing it, and I want to do a thorough job.”
The school board may not see a preliminary budget until its next meeting on March 10. A budget-specific board workshop is also scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.
Though some local school districts have already publicly unveiled preliminary budget figures, St. Amour said that she would rather wait to allow the school board a first look. “We’re still working at it,” she said on Tuesday, February 25. “We have most of our revenue estimated, and I just submitted the tax-cap calculation this week.”
Though the budget vote is less than three months away, public school districts across the state are still unclear on some of the figures. “On the appropriations or the budget side, some of our big numbers we don’t have available yet, like our health-insurance rates,” said St. Amour. “And we’re also in negotiations with two of our unions, so I’m still waiting for those to finish up that side of the budget.”
State aid is an annual rite of passage whereby the legislature adds dollars to the governor’s budget.
“Our only real increase [in the governor’s proposal] is $97,911, and $53,550 of that is supposed to be devoted specifically to a community school program,” said St. Amour. “So we’re actually only receiving a minimum amount, a $44,361 that we can spend wherever we like. That’s particularly challenging. And in the governor’s proposal he’s combining some of the expenditure-driven aids into the foundation aid formula. If that continues, it’s just going to be hard to explain that to taxpayers.”
The district is also working from a statewide tax-levy cap of 1.81 percent, though that could go up or down depending upon a variety of factors. Should the district present a budget in May that seeks a tax-levy increase at or below the cap, they would only need a simple majority to pass. Should the tax levy go higher than the cap, a supermajority of 60 percent or greater would have to approve the budget.
Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said that representatives from the school district have made the annual trek to Albany to seek assistance from legislators as the state budget process unfolds.
“It’s the same thing every year,” Reinhardt said. “The governor will float something out, and people come back saying, Hey, we need this, this and this, and you know, hopefully it gets better between now and April.”
The preliminary Saugerties budget figures will remain unclear for the next couple of weeks.
The district’s budget for the current school year totaled $65.3 million, a 2.07 percent increase over the previous spending plan.