Officials in the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) revealed a preliminary property tax levy increase of 2.7 percent for the 2022-23 school year.
The SCSD’s Business Manager Jane St. Amour presented a preliminary spending plan during a special meeting of the Board of Education on Tuesday, March 15, expressing concerns about numerous variables that could impact the district’s fiscal health in 2022-23.
“I’m worried about several things,” St. Amour said. “One is inflation, not just gas prices. And also a shortage of major supplies, particularly paper, which we use a lot up here. And food. Also a shortage of bus drivers still exists. And interest rates.”
According to St. Amour’s calculations, the maximum allowable tax levy for 2022-23 will be $42,643,696, an increase of $1,121,366. Raising the tax levy by 2.7 percent or less would require a simple majority of greater than 50 percent to pass their budget in May. Should the district present a budget seeking a higher tax levy increase, they would need the support of a supermajority of 60 percent or higher.
St. Amour also identified a likely decrease in state aid of $1,369,290, or 5.8 percent, over the 2021-22 total of $23,537,616. She added that the decrease wasn’t cause for alarm.
“This is mostly due to the drop in building aid,” St. Amour said. “A drop in building aid also corresponds with a drop in debt service on the expense side of the budget, so those two things offset each other.”
Elements of state aid are actually projected to increase in 2022-23, St. Amour said. Foundation aid is estimated to rise from $16,002,807 to $16,537,054; transportation aid should jump from $2,000,968 to $2,309,298; and high cost aid from $387,990 to $444,406. The decreases are primarily found in BOCES aid ($1,332,395, a drop of $450,338) and building aid ($305,207, a decrease of $1,634,298). The building aid decrease is due to the final payments on previous facilities projects in the district.
St, Amour’s preliminary budget calculations shows a projected total of $66,948,950, an increase of $411,985, or 0.62 percent. The most significant increases are seen in BOCES administration and a forthcoming capital project, bumping the district’s share up from $957,126 to $1,292,639, a 35.05 percent jump.
Other increases include a 26.3 percent rise in technology costs to $1,467,294; a 10.35 percent increase in Board of Education and central administration costs to $1,807,826; and an 8.82 percent increase in sports and extracurricular expenses to $608,009, which is partly due to the addition of athletic chaperones.
The debt service line is the only decrease in the preliminary budget, down 58.04 percent to $1,126,544. But there are other savings as well. With the closure of Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 school year, the SCSD will remove the salaries of one principal, five elementary teachers, three special education teachers, one physical education teacher, the equivalent of 9.5 full time teaching assistants, one typist and 2.5 monitors, a total savings of $1,188,533.
For the 2022-23 school year, the district is using federal COVID stimulus funding to cover the costs of two intervention teachers, two multi-tiered system of support teachers, one reading specialist, one dean of students, two literacy coaches, two math coaches, one credit recovery specialist, one director of curriculum and instruction, one accountant, four teaching assistants, one custodial worker and one social worker.
The district will also maintain current year staffing additions of one athletic trainer, one elementary psychologist, a part time clerical worker for the special education office, and stipend coordinator and advisor positions.
Proposed additions in the 2022-23 budget include one elementary librarian, one reading teacher, one elementary school teacher, one secondary language teacher, one secondary teaching assistant in special education; and two secondary STEAM/CTE teachers, one specializing in business and the other in technology.
The preliminary budget did not include some costs, particularly those as yet to be determined.
“We do our (fuel) bids on a yearly basis, so we usually bid in June for the upcoming winter season, and then we usually lock in a price that we prepay for the summer,” St. Amour said. “But if we think that waiting a month or two would get us a lower price then maybe we would wait before we do that bid again.”
Health insurance costs have mostly been established.
“As a consortium, we just decided on the health insurance rates for most of our employees and most of our retirees,” St. Amour said. “There will be an increase for active employees of about 5.1 percent for the premiums for that group, and then a decrease between 7-9 percent for our over-65 retirees. So overall the rate increase is about 1.5 percent for the district for that group of health insurance.”
In its current configuration, the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $141,360. St Amour identified a number of ways in which that could be overcome, including awaiting the New York State legislative budget to see if state aid will increase further than projected. Also possible are using fund balance and reserves, trimming the budget, or increasing the tax levy over the cap.
The School Board is expected to set the budget during their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 12. A public hearing on the budget will be held on Tuesday, May 10, and voters will decide the fate of the spending plan one week later.