The Board of Education tonight unanimously approved a $53.407 million budget for the 2017-18 school year that adds a part-time guidance counselor, boosts spending for social studies, establishes an elementary skills class and increases spending for popular BOCES programs like New Visions, Career and Tech High School and Tech Valley High School that are in high demand.
The spending plan, if approved by the community during voting on May 16, would increase the tax levy by 3.61 percent, below the maximum 3.66 percent allowed for Scotia-Glenville by the state.
Community voting will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, in the high school gymnasium. A public hearing on the plan will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3, in the middle school cafeteria.
Superintendent Susan Swartz discussed the state budget, which was supposed to be approved by the constitutional deadline of April 1. It now appears the state Legislature may approve a state budget by May 31 in order to gauge the impact of federal budget cuts on the state.
“I think this is the best we can do right now,” said Swartz, noting that the budget amount is a maximum amount that the school district could spend. "We could spend less and there is always movement of dollars around beneath that cap.”
Board President David Bucciferro was absent from the meeting.
In January, 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 for Scotia-Glenville - including state reimbursement for money already spent like transportation and BOCES costs - would increase by $410,099 or 2.09 percent.
During the past five weeks of deliberations, the board had proposed cutting spending for field trips and after-school buses. Both of those items were fully restored in the spending plan approved this evening.
Increases and decreases
The budget includes an increase of 0.6 guidance counselor (+$48,438). The guidance department would have three counselors at the middle school and 3.6 at the high school.
The plan also increases spending for an elementary skills class (+$228,671) for six anticipated kindergartners with special needs, social studies teaching (+$13,940) and additional tuition spending ($58,827) toward BOCES programs such as New Visions, Career and Technical High School and Tech Valley High School. Those courses are popular with Scotia-Glenville students and this funding increase will allow more students to enroll in those courses.
The plan also cuts spending for one elementary position (-$80,729) due to declining enrollment, the four elementary door monitors (-$67,156) due to the electronic passageways now in place, one full-time teaching assistant at the Middle School (-$43,739) due to a changing need and other general staffing savings (-66,659).
Board members have said that, if state aid were increased beyond the governor’s pronouncement in January, they would support restoring the elementary door monitors.
Maximum tax levy limit
The state's “maximum tax levy limit or cap” is the highest allowable tax levy a school district can propose as part of its annual budget requiring approval by a simple majority of voters.
Certain exemptions don’t count against the cap. These include voter-approved local capital expenditures, increases in state mandated employer contributions to employee pensions, and some court orders or judgments.
In 2017-18, Scotia-Glenville is taking a capital levy exclusion, which is from debt repayments related to the first phase of the capital project approved by the voters in May of 2015. That exclusion raises the district's maximum allowable tax levy limit to 3.66 percent in 2017-18.
Each school district determines its “tax levy limit” using an eight step formula. The formula adjusts a district’s tax levy to reflect growth in the local tax base (if any) and the rate of inflation or 2% (or whichever is lower. The base inflationary amount is 1.26 percent in 2017-18).
The law, though referred to as a "2 percent tax cap," does not cap property taxes at 2%. The law applies to the tax levy - the total amount of taxes collected - not to tax rates or individual tax bills.
A frugal history on tax rates
Scotia-Glenville is the only school district in the Capital Region area that has cut tax rates three times in the past eight years.
Tax rates declined in the 2009-10 school year (-1.68 percent) as the district received 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.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦