Superintendent presents plan to close budget tax levy gap

March 20, 2017

One kindergarten position, elementary door monitors would be cut to close gap and to add a middle school guidance counselor; a teaching assistant, late buses and half of field trip money would also be cut

In order to get the tax levy increase below the state maximum of 3.66 percent, Superintendent Susan Swartz presented a series of reductions that would squeeze the budget below that figure for the 2017-18 school year.

“When I look at things that will impact children’s education or things that are operational, I will always come down on the operational side,” she said, explaining the specific proposed reductions to the Board of Education tonight.

The board expects to adopt a budget by April 3. 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.

As part of Swartz’s Tier 1 proposals, the $53.648 million revised proposal adds an elementary skills class for 6-7 pre-school students with special needs, increases 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.

To get the budget below the 3.66 percent, she presented a plan that cuts a kindergarten position at Sacandaga Elementary ($80,729 savings), includes additional staff savings of $66,659 and eliminates the elementary door monitors ($67,156 savings).

Those reductions bring the tax levy increase to 3.59 percent, $16,990 below the state’s cap.

Swartz had also presented two proposals in Tier 2: adding back a middle school guidance counselor and a half-time psychologist.

To get the funding for the guidance counselor, she also suggested cutting a full-time teaching assistant ($43,739 savings), cutting $5,000 from field trip funding (half of the budget) and eliminating late buses ($15,000 savings).

Those reductions, and the addition of the guidance counselor, would put the tax levy limit increase at 3.65 percent.

She noted that the state may increase state aid in its final deliberations over a state budget. Any money restored, she suggested, should restore the elementary door monitors and put money back toward reducing the district’s use of fund balance in the budget. The board could also opt to put some of the additional funding toward reducing the proposed tax levy increase.

“I’m a realist. I don’t think there will be a lot of additional funding, may $100,000 or $125,000,” said Swartz.

Swartz also reminded board members that, at 3.66 percent, Scotia-Glenville’s proposed tax levy limit increase would be nearly double most area school districts.

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.

Support for Tier 1 proposals; some would support MS guidance counselor

All board members supported the Tier 1 suggestions and some supported adding back the guidance counselor.

Board member Pam Carbone, who supported the Tier 1 additions and the guidance counselor, said she did not want to cut elementary field trips and the late buses, saying that both provide opportunities that students need.

“I’d like to see a Tier 1 plus the guidance counselor,” she said. “With all the problems our kids are facing – we talk about trying to get to them sooner – a guidance counselor would help us do that. They (counselors) keep the big issues from rising and getting worse.”

However, “we need to keep late buses for the kids,” she added. “If not every day, at least a few days a week. We need to have it.”

Board member William Pytlovany said he felt the cost of the after-school buses, $15,000, was a “good bang for the buck. A lot of kids depend on them.”

He also said he’d like to find a way to restore the elementary door monitors.

Board President David Bucciferro said he supported the Tier 1 proposals, and the guidance counselor addition, but would also like to see the psychologist considered to deal with mental issues among students. Bucciferro, as well, said he “would like to see half of the field trip money put back and I hate to lose a TA and the door monitors.”

“We could go with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 items and pray that we get more money,” he added.

Bucciferro, in summarizing the board’s feelings, told Swartz that there was considerable support for restoring the late buses.

“There are only so many places I can go to find the money,” said Swartz. “When I’m considering items, I am trying to chose items that will have the least impact on students and their direct education.”

Board members also discussed possibly adding just a half-time guidance counselor as a way of stretching funding to restore items like the field trips, late buses and some of the elementary monitor positions.

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 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.