The Kingston City School District’s spending plan for the 2023-24 school year is coming into greater focus, but the Board of Education is still considering a number of different options before adopting it for public vote.
The district was given an allowable tax levy increase by New York State of 3.23 percent, which when weighed against the 2022-23 final budget would total $110,619,512, an increase of $3,568,833. But in the past eight years, Kingston has only asked for the maximum levy increase twice, opting to go below it six times, including a zero percent increase in the 2020-21 school year.
During a meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, March 15, district administrators presented trustees with five different preliminary budget options, with the tax levy increase ranging from zero to the maximum allowable.
Using their rollover template, district officials are using a preliminary budget figure of $219,520,208, a $16,396,700 — or 8.07 percent — change over the current school year’s spending plan. Those figures are likely to go lower in the coming weeks, said school officials.
“We continue to refine, refine, refine,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino, noting that the preliminary budget includes fully funding staff and programs previously covered by federal funding due to expire later this year.
The Kingston City School District received $6.4 million through the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act enacted on December 20, 2020; and $15.1 million through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act enacted on March 11, 2021.
The CRRSA funding is available for the district to use through September 2023, while the ARP funding can be spent through September 2024, with at least 20 percent of the $15.1 million required to be spent on “learning loss” during the pandemic. Learning loss was able to be addressed with after-school or extended day activities, summer learning or enrichment, or extended school year. Some focus of learning loss spending was intended to consider underrepresented student subgroups, including but not limited to children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, homeless children and foster children. The ARP funding also required school districts to formulate a plan to return to in-school instruction for the 2021-22 school year.
Much of Kingston’s focus was on learning loss and the social and emotional well-being of its students, with concerns of the impact of lockdown and distance learning, which began in mid-March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe.
District officials are still deciding which, if any, of the CRRSA funded initiatives to bring back, so for the time being at least they’re fully funded in the preliminary budget. Padalino said that is standard practice in the budgeting process, allowing the district to make School Board-recommended adjustments before a budget is adopted.
“We usually start off like this and then as we chip away we get down to where we need to be,” he said.
The district’s anticipated revenue changes include a $1.5 million increase in interest; a $204,000 jump in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT); and a State Aid bump of $9,216,992, of which around $7.9 million is a Foundation Aid increase, the estimated value of which remains a bone of contention between the state and the school district.
“Fully funding a faulty formula isn’t something that I’d particularly like to give them credit for,” Padalino said. “But yes, the governor has pledged that we would receive that their version of a fully funded form Foundation (Aid) formula, and I think that that’s the minimum of what we will see in the Foundation Aid.”
As is often the case, state lawmakers find a way to include more money for education than is seen in the governor’s budget proposal, but how successful they are won’t be known until next month.
The district is also grappling with an estimated $16,396,700 increase in expenses, which includes bumps in salaries ($7.6 million), transportation ($3 million), BOCES services ($2.1 million), special education tuition ($2 million), health insurance ($1.3 million), and retirement and Social Security ($400,000).
Padalino said that while on the surface, the BOCES increase seems steep compared to prior years, some of that is due to expanded services, and some due to a desire to get the balance right ahead of time.
“Quite honestly, I think we’re looking a little more realistically at what our costs are at BOCES than maybe we have in the past,” Padalino said. “So while this looks like a huge jump, we ended up doing a lot of transfers at the end of the year in the years in the past to make sure we cover that instead of budgeting for the actual cost. I think we may come down a little bit, but I think we’re in the real world there.”
Trustees were presented with five potential tax levy scenarios with the rollover budget figures, and including the use of $4,220,000 in fund balance and $750,000 in other appropriations, with the maximum 3.23 percent increase putting the district $1,406,875 over.
A 3 percent tax levy increase with the same variables elsewhere would put the district $1,657,123 over; a 2.5 percent tax levy increase $2,210,220 over; a 2 percent tax levy increase $2,763,318 over; and no tax levy increase $4,975,708 over.
Padalino reiterated that the preliminary budget figures represent a work in progress, and that depending upon a variety of factors, the spending plan will be balanced before adopted by the Board of Education.
In addition to the 2023-24 budget, there will be three open seats on the Board of Education, and a $162.5 million districtwide capital project. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.