Board of Education opts against exceeding maximum 2.67% state tax levy cap

The Board of Education has unanimously agreed to keep the 2020-21 school tax levy increase to 2.67% or less, as mandated by state law.

“I am hopeful that you will stay at or below the cap,” Superintendent Susan Swartz said to the Board of Education during the budget presentation Monday night. “That will mean that we will have to be thoughtful and strategic in the reductions that we will have to make.”

Board member Pam Carbone noted that the village of Scotia’s vote to construct a new firehouse in April could also affect community members’ willingness to pay additional taxes.

Here is her presentation to the Board of Education on Monday. Future budget meetings will be held at 7 p.m. at the Middle School on March 9, 16, 23 and 30. Voting on the budget will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 in the B-wing gym at the high school.

The May 19 vote will also include a bus purchase proposal totaling $465,000 to purchase six buses – 2 35-passenger buses, 1 30-passenger vehicle, 1 24-passenger wheel chair bus, 1 72-passenger bus and 1 7-passenger suburban.

The school district, using an eight-step state process, has determined that the maximum tax levy cap for S-G next year is 2.67%. That means that the tax levy – the total amount of taxes collected in the community – can not increase by more than 2.67%. Tax rates are used to calculate individual tax bills; those won’t be estimated until later in the budgeting process. Tax rates are final this summer after all assessment challenges have been determined.

If a school district opted to exceed the cap, the community would have to approve the budget in May with a 60+% approval. The S-G community allowed the school district to exceed the cap in the 2014-15 school year, when the state’s tax levy cap increase was just 0.27%.

Swartz presented to 2020-21 “carry forward” budget to board members. The budget includes all current funding and programs. The total is $58.675 million, a 3.02% or $1,719,751 increase over the current budget. As she mentioned, the state budget proposal increases aid to S-G by 2.2% or $457,490.

The budget shortfall between anticipated revenues and expenditures is currently $514,000 for the 2020-21 school year. That figure does not include the additional grade 5 position that will need to be added at Sacandaga Elementary because of higher enrollment.

“I don’t have enough magic to close a $500,000 gap, there’s not a lot of wiggle room any place,” Swartz said. She said that, while the state Legislature may increase funding slightly, she is not betting on that. “I like to go by the numbers that we have right now,” she added.

While her budget proposal includes a minimum of 20 students per class in general education classes, she admitted that some AP and SUPA classes have fewer than that.”Should we say that no upper level classes will have fewer than 10 students? I think we should be providing opportunities for students, so I don’t want to reduce those,” she said.

Board President David Bucciferro said he was against slashing programs for students. “Not losing programs is a given for me,” he said, adding however that “I don’t think people could handle more in the tax levy.”

Bucciferro said the board would hold a budget forum before the budget is adopted to hear community concerns. Carbone asked community members to forward any ideas for reductions to board members.

Swartz said she is often asked how, with a declining enrollment, costs continue to increase. She presented this information about today’s students:

  • 30% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch
  • Over 100 students receive a backpack of food for the weekend
  • More than 300 items have been taken from the “Give Back” room, including men’s and women’s clothing
  • Saratoga Center for the Family counselors (one ms/hs and one elementary ) both have students “wait-listed”
  • 17% of students are receiving special education services
  • 6% of students are receiving Section 504 services
  • Anecdotally, more parents and caregivers are reporting their children suffer from anxiety, school refusal, and depression.

“Our demographics have changed quite a bit,” said Swartz, S-G superintendent since 2005. “Most people think of school as it was when they were in school. We have different challenges today than you had when you came to school.”

She did say that some people would say some of these issues, such as providing mental health services, is not the school’s responsibility.

Daily Gazette article –