Board of Education members began their discussion of the 2017-18 school budget tonight as Superintendent Susan Swartz asked them to consider four questions as they began the discussion:
▪ What items are non-negotiable?
▪ What would you like to add if additions are possible?
▪ What are you comfortable letting go?
▪ Where would you like the tax rate to be in August?
The "roll over" budget proposal presented last week would increase spending by $1.752 million (3.37 percent) over the current school year's budget ($52.048 million). That proposal has a funding gap of $531,000, though part of that - as much as $250,000 - would be filled by new hires to replace the 10 retirees approved by the board so far.
In 2017-18, Scotia-Glenville is taking a capital levy exclusion in the state tax levy cap formula, which is from the 2015 capital project repayments. That exclusion raises the district's maximum allowable tax levy limit to 3.66 percent in 2017-18.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has presented a state budget that would include a 1.33 percent increase in Foundation Aid for Scotia-Glenville. Total state aid - including reimbursed funding for money already spent like transportation and BOCES aid - would increase by $410,099 or 2.09 percent. The state Legislature may increase those figures as the state budget is developed up to the April 1 state budget adoption deadline.
She began tonight's presentation by discussing myths about the tax rate and discussed how she hired new staff to replace retiring staff. Because she prefers candidates with experience, she said she plans to typically hire on Step 8 of the teacher's schedule - a starting salary of $51,235 (with benefits, $81,784).
She noted that many staff members were hired above that level last year to replace retirees, while some were hired below that level. She said budgeting to hire at Step 8 gives her flexibility in the hiring process and allows her to "hire somebody with the most experience for our classrooms. We also have to build a budget that reflects our reality (of hiring)."
BOE supports programs in the budget now
Swartz also reviewed the budget additions from last year: MS Special Needs program, teaching assistants at Sacandaga and the Middle School and additional TA hours at Glen-Worden, restoration of field trips, an increase in music instruction, a full-time reading teacher at Sacandaga and the Middle school and reinstatement of the dean of students position at the high school.
Board members felt these were important to keep going forward. "They were important enough for us to add last year, so I don't think we should pare back there," said member Gary Normington. He also said he'd like to see funding to expand social service coverage for students. "If we don't pay to support them now, we will have to pay to support them later," he added.
"I'd like to keep everything that we have now but also stay at or below the cap," said member Pam Carbone.
Board members mentioned several areas of potential new funding in the budget: social services for students, information literacy, add a middle school counselor, additional staff development.
Swartz also mentioned that kindergarten enrollment is low for the coming year, at this point. If it were to remain this low, she said a section of kindergarten could be reduced at Sacandaga. That school now has three sections of kindergarten and generally serves as the "overflow" from other schools in the district when needed. Enrollment this year in those three sections of kindergarten this year are 15, 15 and 16.
Member Dan Feinberg asked if the OPAL enrichment program, which used to have its own teacher but now is taught by library media specialists, was working well.
Swartz said she felt more students were exposed to enrichment by having the library media specialists teach it. Ideally, she said she'd support hiring four OPAL teachers - one for each school. But that cost would be prohibitive, at least next year.
Board President David Bucciferro said he felt an emphasis on pre-kindergarten education would be a benefit for students entering kindergarten and give students a strong foundation. "It's hard. We don't have enough money to do some of the things that we know need to be done," he said.
Most support keeping the tax levy increase at 3.66%
Most board members said that, if Swartz were to present a strong argument for needed programs, they would be willing to exceed the state's tax levy limit for SG of 3.66 percent in 2017-18. The consensus of the board, however, was to stay below the state's tax levy cap for Scotia-Glenville.
"I want to do what we need to do," said Normington. "If our kids are able to get the services they need and we still stay below the cap, that's good. If not, I would support going over the cap."
Carbone mentioned that the state has made it difficult for any school district to exceed the tax levy cap, in part because of the 60 percent approval necessary but also because of the state rebate checks. People have gotten used to those and she'd hate to take those away from people, saying doing so would be a "double hit" on people who would lose the check and pay higher taxes.
Bucciferro echoed Normington's thoughts about staying under the cap unless there are needs not being met in the budget. "And we can hope that some more money gets thrown on the table" by the state Legislature as it concludes its budget deliberations by April 1.
A frugal history on tax rates
Tax rates declined in the 2009-10 school year (-1.68 percent) as the district receive federal stimulus money and returned part of that in the form of lower taxes; the 2015-16 school year (-2.51 percent) as the state dramatically returned Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) funding that had been withheld; and in the current year (-0.74 percent), thanks in large part of an elimination of the GEA and overall increases in state aid.
The community - with a 73.2 percent approval vote - supported an override of the state's maximum tax levy cap in May 2014 for the 2014-15 budget. The state required a 60 percent voter approval rate for the override. That year, the state said the maximum tax levy increase for Scotia-Glenville was a paltry 0.27 percent (less than 1 percent). At the time of the vote, the school district told voters the tax levy would increase by a maximum of 1.76 percent; when approved in August 2014, the levy actually increased by 1.12 percent.
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