Tax rate increase for 2012-13 trimmed
By Michael Turton
The Haldane School Board held an extra meeting on March 13, as discussions continued toward drafting a final spending plan to take to voters on May 15. As any school board trustee across New York State will tell you, school budgets are complicated and confusing. What is neither confusing nor complicated is that what many residents care about most and look at first – is how a new budget will affect their taxes. At their previous meeting on March 6, trustees asked administration to find a way to reduce the total 2012-13 tax levy by an additional $120,000 from what was presented that night – either through additional cuts in spending or by finding additional savings.
In the intervening week the administration accomplished the objective by making adjustments to just two areas of the budget. The changes presented by Superintendent Mark Villanti include savings of $82,271 due to a timely one-year leave of absence request by a teacher and shifting a teacher from the library to a classroom assignment. In addition, Business Manager Anne Dinio was able to refinance the debt on the high school annex – a move that will save the school district $38,000 next year. Together, the two adjustments mean a net reduction of $121,271. Since the beginning of this year’s budget process, the school board has trimmed its spending plan by $505,361 – an amount that closely parallels reductions in state aid.
Where the numbers currently stand
Total spending in 2012-13 will increase by 1.38 percent to $21,927,476, which in turn will mean a tax levy increase of 1.95 percent. The new tax levy, the revenue to be raised through local taxes, will total $17,462,504 or $124,000 less than the maximum allowed by the New York State tax cap. Villanti had held out some hope that Haldane would benefit from a rumored distribution of $200 million among New York’s school districts, part of a $250 million fund that New York State is holding in reserve. But, at the March 13 meeting he said because Haldane is considered a wealthy district, its share will likely be in the $5,000 range. He said that a district such as Poughkeepsie which is not in the wealthy category could receive about $900,000.
Trustees remain concerned about 2013-14
Trustees and administration both continue to be even more nervous about the 2013-14 budget. “I’m going to be as creative as possible. But at some point there’s just no rabbit to pull out of a hat,” Villanti said. He also said that with reductions that have been made to date, choices in the future may be “big areas” such as eliminating the “bubble class” of second grade students and going with three larger classes instead of four classes which have a lower student-teacher ratio. Villanti said that for this year, trimming library staff had “the least impact.”
Trustee Mike Junjulas urged his fellow board members and others to read a recent article in the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA) magazine, On Board, that makes a case for increased class sizes. Villanti has resisted any suggestion of increasing class size, especially at the primary level, and he reiterated his position. “Look at the best research,” he said. “The impact of class size is greatest in primary grades. Classes need to be less than 20 students or learning suffers.”
“I’m not saying that’s the answer,” Junjulas said. “You have to give us options. We have to look to other areas” [for savings.] Board president Joe Curto also urged residents to visit NYSBA to read what On Board has to say. “They explain things in plain English,” he said.
Trustee Peter Henderson was happy with the numbers presented by Villanti. “This was exactly the kind of creative reorganization I hoped you’d find. It was definitely the right thing to do,” he said. As for the 2013-14 budget, he supported Junjulas’ request for more options for cost savings. “I’m on the same page as Mike in thinking about next year’s budget.”
What goes to the voters in May isn’t actually a budget but rather a spending plan. It’s part of the “confusing and complicated” nature of school budgeting in New York. The actual budget, which by definition must include all projected expenditures and revenues, is not complete until sometime in August, once assessment information has been received from the Town of Philipstown and all revenues are known. In the past, it has not been unusual for taxes to be trimmed slightly at that time – depending on those final figures. Once approved by voters, a spending plan cannot be increased – but it can be reduced. In order to give required notice to voters, trustees must approve their final proposed spending plan by April 10.
Upcoming board election
Three seats on the school board will be contested in May. Residents who wish to run in that election must submit their petitions to the Haldane administration office by 5 p.m., April 16. Forms are available from District Clerk Kathy Marino.
The Haldane School Board meets again on March 20, at 7:00 p.m. in the Merritt Building board room. A copy of the draft agenda will be posted on Haldane’s web site by Monday, March 19.
Photo by M.Turton