The school board begins their budget review process long before voters have their say on the final numbers in March.
At the Dec. 19 board meeting, Superintendent David Young, Business Manager Amadee Denton, and Director of Operations and Financial Management Gary Marckres presented initial budget figures to the board for their review. During this first phase, the board views three different versions of the budget; with the knowledge that several of the figures are preliminary and subject to change by the state.
What any of the budget options try to ensure is a high quality of education for students while being mindful of the community’s ability to pay on an ongoing basis. The draft options fit into three categories: a level-funded budget, a continuing services budget, and an administration-recommended budget. A level-funded budget would require the elimination of 28 full-time equivalent positions, or $1.6 million in reductions. Not much time was spent considering that option.
A continuing services budget was outlined in detail. That spending plan keeps programming the same and would result in a 0.73 percent increase in the homestead tax rate over the current fiscal year 2019 tax rate. Proposed expenditures would be up $1,699,374, local revenues down by $746,154, and proposed net education spending would be $2,858,493 higher than in fiscal year 2019. Education spending would remain below the state threshold and spending per pupil would be $1,137.58 higher than the year prior. The major cost driver of this proposed budget is the increase in health care costs of 11.8 percent for the most widely-used plan. All of the budget scenarios plugged in a CLA (Common Level of Appraisal) that was slightly lower than last year’s at 94 percent (again, only an estimate since numbers are not yet final) and an equalized pupils figure of $2,512.79 (the same as last year for now). This tax rate increase would equate to an additional $12 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
In addition to these draft figures of a continuing services budget, it is important to consider the fact that the income sensitivity threshold, whereby taxpayers pay their education tax based upon income rather than property value has increased from $141,000 per household to $147,500.
In terms of the administration’s proposed budget, a few key adds are being recommended. The increase over the continued services budget is 2.3 percent. This increase is driven by the proposed addition of personnel, and to also support the office of operations as well as security staff for the elementary schools. The largest portion of this increase, at .92 percent, would be an early education program at Rick Marcotte Central School. This would require hiring a speech language pathologist, an interventionist, and paraeducators. The idea is that cost savings could potentially be realized by accessing the services provided in house as opposed to contracting with local providers. The board asked for a presentation and more detail on this item at the next budget presentation.
Overall, this proposed budget would result in a 3.61 percent homestead tax increase over FY19. Proposed expenditures would be $2,842,999 higher and the net education spending would be $4,002,118 higher than current spending. The education spending per pupil would come in at $1,592.70 over last year and spending would still be $18,311 below the state threshold. This budget would result in an increase of $57 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
School board member Steve Wisloski said he would like to see if the percent tax increase in the administration’s budget could be dropped below 3 percent and wondered what the impediments would be to cutting $800,000 from that budget. Bridget Burkhardt expressed concern regarding increasing full-time equivalent positions, particularly replacing lower-paid individuals with higher-paid related to the proposed addition of the Early Essential Education program at Central School.
Young said that the proposal for the additional Early Essential Education program has come before him for the past three years and he finally feels that it would be the right time to add it. He said that he would ask Director of Student Support Services Joanne Godek to attend an upcoming meeting to shed more light on why the program is needed and what the potential savings and positive outcomes have been with existing program at the Orchard and Chamberlin Schools.
The draft budget numbers presented Wednesday night are likely to change as information comes in from the state and numbers are refined.