Budget update: spending plan will include elementary mental health and guidance services

Superintendent Susan Swartz on Monday presented a revised draft of the budget to the Board of Education that doesn’t change the bottom line but adds two new programs: mental health services and guidance services for elementary students.

The first expands the program added this year to provide mental health services to high school and middle school students through the Saratoga Center for the Family. The budget plan would add one person to cover the four elementary schools.

The second proposal, adding an elementary guidance counselor, is required by the state beginning in September. The state requirement says that “each school district shall have a comprehensive developmental school counseling/guidance program for all students in grades kindergarten (K) through grade 12.” S-G already has guidance counselors in grades 6-12; this would add a counselor to cover grades K-5 at the four schools.

Swartz said both proposals can be covered by costs captured in the estimated health care costs and those have become clearer in the budget.

Here is a printer friendly version of her presentation.

Budget overview slideShe also floated another idea: the $56.95 million budget that she presented on Feb. 25 did not increase the tax levy as far as allowed by the state. The state says S-G could raise the tax levy by 3.18 percent; the proposal on Feb. 25 proposed raising the tax levy by 2.91 percent.

As for the tax rates – which are used to calculate tax bills in September – the Feb. 25 budget would have raised them by 3.59 percent; going to the maximum state tax levy amount would raise the the tax rate by 3.97 percent.

“That’s higher than we have gone in quite a while,” said Swartz. But she asked board members if they wanted to spend that additional $79,000 and increase the levy to the maximum allowed by the state.

Most board members said they were happy with the Feb. 25 budget, though some said that tax rate figure of 3.59 percent was still too high.

Board President David Bucciferro, who asked about expanding after-school buses, said he supported staying with the Feb. 25 proposal.

“I think we should feel comfortable with this, that we are getting both the elementary mental health service and guidance counselor,” he said. “I would not be comfortable going to 3.97 percent (on the tax rate increase).”

Swartz told Bucciferro the issue with increasing after-school busing was not the funding. “We just don’t have the drivers right now; we couldn’t offer more if we wanted to,” she said.

Spending the extra $79,000 impactVice President Dan Feinberg, noting that S-G has cut the tax rate three times in the past decade, said he’d like to see what could be done with the $79,000 extra. He said he didn’t have any any specific ideas but thought it was worth a discussion.

Member Colleen Benedetto said she wanted to stay with the Feb. 25 figures and didn’t like spending every available dollar. “This is a comfortable year, we didn’t have to cut anything and kept everything we have,” she said. “These (figures) are all projected anyways. I’m OK with 3.59 (percent).”

“There are a whole lot of things I’d like to add, but I don’t think this is the year to do it,” said member Pamela Carbone. “I think we should leave it where we are. 3.59 (percent) is itself kind of high.”

Member Hal Talbot noted that the community overwhelmingly approved the $14 million capital project last May. “I wouldn’t feel right about going right to the max, even though we could,” he said.

State aid accounts for 36 percent of the S-G’s annual budget. While Foundation Aid (based on student enrollment) is expected to climb by $40,862, based on the governor’s January budget proposal, other areas of S-G’s state aid will decline. The NYS budget is due to be completed by April 1. Final state aid figures will not be known until after that date.

This was the third week of budget deliberations. Here are links to the previous weeks discussions:

Swartz said she would return on March 18 with a firm budget proposal that could be adopted at the board’s March 25 meeting. Those meetings will be at 7 p.m. each evening at the Middle School library.

Budget timeline

Here are the upcoming budget-related dates:

  • Mondays, March 18 and 25 – 7 p.m., Middle School library – Board of Education budget development
  • Wednesday, May 8 – 7 p.m., Middle School cafeteria – budget hearing
  • Tuesday, May 21 – 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., High School B-wing gymnasium – 2019-20 annual budget, bus purchase proposal and selection of two Board of Education members during the community vote.

The bus purchase proposition including the purchase of four 72-passenger gasoline school buses at a maximum cost of $425,000. This purchase would not impact the 2019-20 tax rate.