Board of Education supports budget proposal as it now stands

Field trips and after-school buses were restored to the spending plan and a part-time guidance counselor was added; elementary monitors, a MS TA and one elementary position would still be cut in the proposal

MARCH 27, 2017
The Board of Education and Superintendent Susan Swartz took a step back tonight, restoring the field trips and after-school buses cut in previous versions of the budget.

To find the money to pay for them, Swartz proposed adding a 0.6 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) guidance counselor instead of the full-time counselor she proposed last week. The guidance department would have 6.6 counselors – 3 at the middle school and 3.6 at the high school.

The resulting budget proposal is $12,291 below the school district’s maximum tax levy cap. The resulting tax levy cap would be 3.61 percent; the maximum that is allowed under the state’s tax levy cap law is 3.66 percent, higher this year because of a one-time capital exclusion because of the 2015 capital project.

The board expects to adopt a budget by April 3 (at 7 p.m. at the Middle School cafeteria). A public hearing on the spending plan will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3. The community will consider the eventual budget proposal during voting from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.

Read Swartz’s PowerPoint presentation here.

Swartz had also said previously that she would consider reducing a kindergarten teacher at Sacandaga, reflecting low expected enrollment this year. However, she said tonight that the reduction may actually be at first grade, meaning the 44 current kindergarten pupils would advance to two sections of grade 1. That is 22 students in each section, in line with the district’s informal class maximum “caps.”

Board member Gary Normington, saying he supported the budget proposal as is, asked what needs are not being met by the proposal.

“Are there any programs for needs of a student or students that we will not be meeting with this budget?” he asked. “That’s a big piece of the puzzle for me so that we can better understand a budget. What are we not providing now that will come back as a bigger problem later?”

He said that information should be shared with state legislators and the governor so they can see the impact of not providing adequate funding to education.

Board members agreed it would be nice to have that overall perspective for future budgets, though Swartz said she could do a lot of good with unlimited funding.

All board members said they were not interested in attempting to exceed the state’s tax levy cap.

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. The state Legislature may increase those figures as the state budget is developed up by April 1 – this Saturday – the state budget adoption deadline.

Board members also discussed how to spend any additional state funding they receive.

Board member Pam Carbone said she supported restoring the elementary door monitors then returning any amount left into the district’s fund balance.

Board President David Bucciferro also said he was concerned about the amount of fund balance being used to balance next year’s budget ($3.385 million would be used as a revenue source in the budget).

“The fund balance has me nervous,” said Bucciferro, who said he doubts there will be much of an increase in state aid. “There may not even be enough of an increase to pay for the door monitors; I’d rather put any extra money we get into (reducing the use of) the fund balance.”

He said the budget, as it now stands, “is probably the best we’re going to be able to do. This is our budget. I don’t know what else we could have done.”

The budget as it now stands adds:

  • a K-2 skills program (+$228.671) for six anticipated kindergartners with special needs
  • increases social studies teaching staffing (+$13,940)
  • boosts BOCES expenditures (+$58,827) to pay for programs that students are interested in taking such as New Visions, Career and Tech Education and Tech Valley High School and
  • adds a 0.6 FTE guidance counselor (+$48,438).
    The plan also cuts spending for:
  • one elementary position (-$80,729)
  • elementary door monitors (-$67,156)
  • one full-time teaching assistant at the Middle School (-$43,739) and
  • other staffing savings (-66,659).

There is also a $260,000 savings by not sending the anticipated six kindergarten pupils with special needs to outside programs.

 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 the capital project repayments for the project approved by voters in 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.