School officials in the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) last week detailed a $66,536,965 proposed budget for the 2021-22 school year, an increase of 0.098 percent over the 2020-21 plan. The proposal includes a property tax levy of $41,522,330, an increase of 2.19 percent, the maximum allowed under the state cap for the district.
If approved, the district would overcome a $70,477 budget gap with unassigned fund balance. During a virtual meeting of the Board of Education held on Tuesday, April 13, the district’s business manager Jane St. Amour noted that the gap is significantly less than the estimated $1.7 million gap in earlier budget drafts. Helping overcome the difference is a state aid projection of $23,537,616, an increase of $898,398, or 4 percent.
With a return to fully in-person learning more likely during the 2021-22 school year as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, some expenses are expected to rise in the SCSD. Transportation would increase by $195,242 to $4,825,963, an increase of 4.22 percent. Sports and extracurricular would rise even more significantly, jumping 8.34 percent to $558,740. But while there are increases in the spending plan, there are also reductions, including technology, which would fall by 3.23 percent to $1,161,742; and instruction, set to drop 1.74 percent to $32,738,190.
The district’s BOCES budget, which is based on use, would fall by $751,794 to $5,012,015.
The budget proposal includes spending additional funds for credit recovery and night school, moving a part-time elementary level guidance counselor to full-time, and hiring a second full-time social worker for the Jr. and Sr. High School.
St. Amour said that the future is potentially cloudy, with promises from New York State to fully fund foundation aid by the 2023-24 school year, which in Saugerties would mean around $17.5 million. St. Amour said the district is at roughly 91.3 percent, a seemingly small gap to overcome. But to make good on its promise, the state would have to come up with an additional $2.15 billion.
“Is this sustainable for New York State to make up that difference over the next three years of over $2 billion?” St. Amour said. “From my understanding, they’re getting about $12.6 billion from the federal government to prop up their own budget, along with all the money that we’re getting directly from the federal government. But are they really going to be able to do that for the next three years?”
Within the state aid calculation is a building aid total of $1,939,505, an increase of nearly $130,000. St. Amour said that was the result of final cost reports for projects like roof repair at Charles M. Riccardi Elementary, gutters at Lawrence M. Cahill Elementary and sewer work at Grant D. Morse Elementary.
What the state aid figures in the budget proposal did not include are federal aid funds, which for the SCSD total $6,513,193. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Act (CRRSA) signed in December 2020 will bring the district $2,292,776, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed in March 2021 will include a direct allocation of $3,520,417, plus an additional $700,000 earmarked for learning loss.
St. Amour explained that in both cases, the federal funding has an expiration date. The CSRRA funding must be spent by September 30, 2023, and the ARPA funding must be spent by September 30, 2024.
In the case of the CSRRA funding, the district has to focus its efforts on learning loss and reopening schools.
“The district is going to be responsible for reporting on how we are measuring and addressing learning loss among students, particularly for the low income students with disabilities, English, learners, minorities, homeless and foster students,” St. Amour said.
As for the ARPA funding, in addition to the additional $700,000 received by the district, at least 20 percent of the directly allocated $3.5 million must also cover learning loss.
“(It) must be spent to address learning loss through implementation of evidence-based interventions and how those interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address underrepresented student groups,” St. Amour said. “The remaining amount is to be spent on reopening according to CDC and DOH guidance.”
The district is required to post its plans for the ARPA funding to its website no later than Thursday, July 1.
Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the district is still awaiting word on other requirements related to the federal aid, including whether districts will be required to offer a remote learning option for the 2021-22 school year.
“One of our concerns with this money is what might be the expectation for remote in the fall and how much of this money would go toward that,” Reinhardt said. “Because we do know there’s a certain percentage of learning loss, and we definitely want those targeted interventions and those extended year and extended day programs.”
Reinhardt stressed that the CSRRA and ARPA funding cannot be spent on general budget items.
“The big thing is that the federal money can only be used for non-reoccurring expenses,” he said. “These are expenditures that we’re assuming are going to end either in 24 months or 36 months…We’ll make sure we’re constantly putting that information out to the community to understand what we could spend the federal money on and how that’s not part of our general fund budget.”