Budget review begins; tax cap higher than expected

Because a business is no longer on a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for its annual tax bill, Scotia-Glenville will be able to adopt a budget that calls for a slightly higher tax levy than previously thought.

Business Administrator Andrew Giaquinto told the Board of Education on Monday night that this news gives them a bit more wiggle room.

Under the eight-step state tax levy formula, Scotia-Glenville would have only been allowed to increase taxes by 1.27% or $393,021, leaving a $1.08 million budget shortfall. But the most recent news will now allow Scotia-Glenville to increase taxes by 1.62% or $502,287, now leaving a shortfall of around $970,000. And Superintendent Susan Swartz assured the board she should be able to “fill” that shortfall to keep the budget under the state’s tax levy cap.

At the February 28 meeting, board members agreed to tell the state comptroller’s office that the school district would exceed the tax levy cap for the 2022-23 school year. However, that decision can be reversed.

Here is Swartz’s presentation to the Board of Education.

Swartz reviewed elementary enrollment trends with the board. Next Monday, March 14, she will review enrollment trends for the middle and high school.

‘Confident we can make this work’

She assured Board of Education members that “we have closed much larger gaps (than $1 million) in the past. I am confident that we can make this work. We believe we can get to where we need to be without it being incredibly painful.”

While the district eventually needs to right-size its staffing to match declining enrollment, “I am not looking to reduce staff.” She also could consider redistricting the elementary boundaries or consider closing a school, but she is not interested in looking at those options right away.

“I am trying to do budget reductions as painlessly as possible,” she said, noting that she expects to have four elementary openings going into next year (two retirements and two resignations). “I feel we can get by without filling those positions.”

We need to plan for actual enrollment

“I want us to plan for our actual and anticipated enrollment,” she said. She also needs to “position the district in the best possible manner for when our federal funding ends in June 2023, so we do not face a financial cliff.”

She noted that districtwide, enrollment is down by 400 students since the 2011-12 school year, a 15% drop. Elementary enrollment is down by 229 students since 2011-12, a 19.5% drop.

But she also pointed to a stable cohort of students, meaning that in general students who begin at Scotia-Glenville tend to stay. In the presentation, she noted that a kindergarten class of 145 students who started in the 2016-17 school year rose to 151 in grade 1, 144 in grade 2, 148 in grade 3, 142 in grader 4 and 147 in grade 5. “That’s a pretty stable cohort of students,” she said, noting that other years were similar.

She also reviewed the current situation at the elementary schools. She noted that while each grade currently has nine sections of classes between the four schools, that using the district’s class size guidelines, we could really get by with eight sections of kindergarten, seven sections of grades 1-4 and six sections of grade 5. She also said a “sweet spot” of sections, meaning a level that would create the least disruption, would be nine in kindergarten, eight in grades 1-4 and 7 for grade 5.

The district’s class size guidelines are:

  • Kindergarten and grade 1, 22 students
  • Grade 2, 23
  • Grade 3, 24
  • Grade 4, 25
  • Grade 5, 26

In practice, the district has been willing to exceed those caps by two students.

As of today, the district is aware of 110 incoming kindergarten students, putting the class size well below the current 167 kindergarten students. She also noted that kindergarten students continue to enroll right up until the start of school, so that number will grow higher.

Board member Pam Carbone asked about going to grade-level centers, where all grades K-2 students are in two schools and all grades 3-5 students are in two other schools. “Would that help us out at all?” she asked.

Swartz said the district had looked at that option in the past but she didn’t feel it would save much on the budget, though it would allow for larger class sizes in a building to get over the occasional enrollment “bumps.” That option would also increase transportation costs.

Added staff to deal with the ongoing stress of COVID

“So we told you last time that we have added 19.9 staff members this year,” she said. “You’re probably asking why?” She noted that the stress of returning to school full-time after the last two years of dealing with COVID restrictions, for students and staff, required many of the additional staff. Those additional positions included reading teachers, teaching assistants, aides and others who deal with students every day.