Unexpected revenue received from state
The Haldane Board of Education approved the school district’s spending plan for 2013-14 at its meeting Wednesday, April 3, but there were a couple of surprise “gifts” from New York state for revenues in the final budget that will be adopted in August.
Spending next year will total $22,345,120, a budget-to-budget increase of 1.9 percent compared to 2012-13. The tax levy for next year, the amount raised through local property taxes, is currently estimated at $619,849, at a tax rate increase of 2.83 percent over the current level. The increases keep the district within the tax cap dictated by the state.
The tax levy is only an estimate at this time, because new assessed property values for Philipstown, on which the tax rate is based, are not available until August. In recent years, the tax levy rate has been adjusted slightly downward, and that will likely be the case again. The spending plan will go to a public vote on May 21.
School districts that received “High Tax Relief” in the past but had it taken away by the governor’s proposed budget were expected get back at least part of that aid in the new state budget. The state budget announced on April 1 showed the full amount reinstated. In addition, the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which had been slated to cut funding to Haldane by $518,010 next year, was reduced to $418,000, resulting in a net revenue increase of $100,000.
The increase in state revenue was no doubt a result of lobbying by school districts across the state, as concern mounted over the magnitude of cuts in funding for public education. Locally, the Haldane PTA spearheaded a letter-writing campaign that saw hundreds of area residents write to elected officials in Albany.
Bubble Class teacher added
The $236,000 increase in state aid is relatively small in terms of Haldane’s budget overall, amounting to about 1 percent of spending in 2013-14, however it enabled administration and trustees to reinstate some items that previously had been cut, most notably funding for an additional teacher for next year’s unusually large third-grade “bubble class.”
With 75 third-grade students registered at present, a fourth teacher will be hired. Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti said that if registration falls below the current level, they will have to reevaluate that hire, which would not occur until after the referendum.
Other items put back into the budget include funding an increase in Internet bandwidth, appropriation for an internal audit and partial reinstatement of textbook purchases. One teacher’s-aide position was also reinstated.
The May budget referendum will include two propositions to be voted on separately from the proposed spending plan — one to fund the purchase of a 30-passenger bus and another to fund upgraded security on the Haldane campus.
Debating the tax levy
School Board President Michael Junjulas was unable to attend the meeting due to illness but participated via computer link. He was not permitted to vote on agenda items as required by state law. Vice President Gillian Thorpe and Trustees Evan Schwartz, Peter Henderson and Jon Champlin voted unanimously in favor of the spending plan after lengthy discussion.
Initially, Schwartz and Henderson both argued that spending should be cut in order to reduce the tax levy increase, even if only by a small amount. Referring to the previous budget proposal, Schwartz said: “We said that education would not be hurt. Then there is an infusion of funds … and now we’re reinstating items, but with no change in the tax rate. People may have a problem with that.”
He suggested that the tax rate be lowered slightly and that some of the new revenue be shifted to reserves. Henderson agreed, though he said that he supported funding the teacher for the bubble class. “We should make an effort to move some funds to decrease the tax levy somewhat.”
Champlin said he understood Schwartz’s and Henderson’s point of view, but “we got push-back from the community about the things that are important to us education-wise,” including funding the bubble-class teacher. He said that reducing spending would mean taking away the increased bandwidth and new textbooks.
Final decisions in August
Junjulas presented the argument that moved trustees to vote in favor of the spending plan. “I’d love to see the tax rate go down, but we don’t know what the rate will be until August. Yes, lower the tax rate come August, but right now, we have to show the higher number.” He said that, should the bubble class not be funded, or if assessed property values are favorable, “Give it back to the taxpayers” in the form of a lower tax levy rate.
Villanti said that, depending on the new property tax assessments, $70,000 from the new, unallocated funds could be used to reduce the tax levy by slightly less than 0.5 percent.
Business Manager Anne Dinio stressed that if funds are removed from the spending plan, such as for the bubble class, “You can’t add it back in” after the referendum. Spending can be decreased but not increased after voters approve a budget. “If you want to reduce the tax levy by $70,000, you do that in August.”
Trustees agreed that they are looking at a tax levy increase, the exact amount of which will not be known until August but which will likely be roughly 2.3 to 2.83 percent. Villanti said, “Our track record every year has been (to come in) less than the estimated tax lay rate.”
Back to school
Villanti reviewed next year’s school calendar, which has students returning to class on Friday, Sept. 6. He said that resuming classes on a Friday has worked well. “Attendance was good last year. Friday takes care of all the routine startup, and kids come back Monday ready to work.”