Board facing nearly $300,000 gap in 2017-18 budget proposal

Swartz adds Tier 1 funding that includes elementary skills special needs class, increased social studies teaching position and higher BOCES tuition costs

MARCH 13, 2017

Superintendent Susan Swartz presented a budget proposal tonight that is $277,580 beyond the school district’s maximum tax levy increase of 3.66 percent for the 2017-18 school year.

The $53.648 million revised proposal adds an elementary skills class for 6-7 pre-school students with special needs, increasing social studies teaching staff at the middle school and high school by .25 and adds tuition funding for an increase in the number of students attending the Career and Tech School, New Visions, Tech Valley High School and other BOCES academic programs.

Read Swartz’s PowerPoint presentation here.

“I recognize that this will be painful but at least seeing it and knowing what it is, makes it more palatable for all of us,” Board President David Bucciferro told Swartz.

Swartz also cautioned board members against considering exceeding over the tax levy cap, noting that only 12 of nearly 700 school districts across New York are planning a cap override. Board members generally agreed that they would not support overriding the 3.66 tax levy cap.

“I’d like to see if you can find some reductions and to see what those are,” said member Colleen Benedetto.

“For now, we need to see what it will take to get us to the 3.66,” added Bucciferro, adding that “we can pray that we get more money from the state.”

“I can go back and find $277,000 if you want to see what that looks like,” said Swartz. “Because we have had cuts in the past, we are pretty thin. But I can dig and come up with it.”

Board members asked her to compile a list of possible reductions by the March 20 meeting to close the gap. The shortfall could also be eliminated if the state Legislature approves a budget around April 1 that boosts state aid beyond the original projections in the governor’s January budget proposal.

One area that Swartz discussed as a possible cost reduction was a kindergarten teacher at Sacandaga. She showed figures that showed enrollment of 16, 15 and 15 in the three sections at Sac. However, next year’s enrollments as of March 13 show there would be 25 kindergarten students total at Sac. – enough for just two classrooms, not three.

Her figures showed 176 kindergarten students in September 2015, 152 in September 2016 and, as of March 13, just 105 kindergarten students registered for September 2017. She noted, however, that it is early and could easily change in the coming weeks. The other three elementary schools also have lower figures for this September, as of now, but not as low as Sacandaga’s. The other schools have two sections of kindergarten each.

She also reviewed that the budget would gain $224,385 as “breakage” for the 10 staff members who have announced their retirements. “Breakage” is the cost difference in salaries between the more experienced, retiring staff members and their replacements. She said the budget projects hiring new staff at Step 8 of the teachers’ contract so that she and administrators are able to hire experienced educators for classrooms. Some will be hired at a higher step level and some at a lower step level, she added. Hiring an employee at Step 8 costs a total of $80,784, including benefits and a $51,235 salary, she said at the March 6 meeting.

Tier 1 additions

Swartz justified the elementary skills class for students with special needs in the Tier 1 additions by noting that, to send the children out of the district, the district would pay a minimum of $50,000 per child. “And you have long known that my preference is to keep our children in their schools right here,” she said.

The cost savings of not sending the students to private programs or BOCES would negate the cost of the program this year, she said.

Another addition in Tier 1 involved increasing a social studies position by .25 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) to full-time. She said she hoped that the addition would boost writing requirements for all social studies students. She said the district’s Regents scores are lagging, in large part because not enough extensive writing is required in middle and high school social studies classes. That addition would cost $13,940.

The budget proposal would also include $30,000 to cover additional tuition costs for an increased number of students who want to study at the Career and Tech School, New Visions and Tech Valley High School programs through BOCES.

Swartz also presented two Tier 2 additions that were not included in the budget proposal: $80,729 for a guidance counselor at the middle school and $26,674 to increase a psychologist by .5 FTE.

She also told board members they could decide to not add any programs at all next year, essentially leaving the exact same programs in place as currently exists. That would still have a shortfall of $206,615.

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.

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.