Schools Draft Budgets in Uncertain Economy

New concerns about state aid for 2020-21

Along with the many other challenges of running public schools during the spread of COVID-19, local districts still must prepare their budgets for 2020-21.

Philip Benante, the superintendent at Haldane in Cold Spring, said that only a few weeks ago, the district was confident that it could create a budget that met the state-mandated property tax cap.

But now, with businesses closing, people out of work and the economy in recession, that may no longer be the case.

“In two weeks’ time we’ve potentially done a 180,” he said.

Under the tax cap, which mandates that districts keep their annual property tax hikes under a certain percentage calculated by the state, Haldane can increase its levy by 3.3 percent. That would equate to an increase of about $56 per $100,000 of market value, he said.

Benante said on Tuesday (March 24) that he had recommended a budget to the school board that was under that cap, but “the last two weeks have blown all that up.”

COVID-19 will have little impact on the budget and operations for the current school year because the district already has its state aid and property taxes in hand, he said.

“The real impact is budget development for next year,” he said. “To present a budget that is respectful of the economic climate — it’s tough to assess that when you’re in the middle of the crisis.”

Benante also said there is fear that state aid will be impacted.

“A lot of revenue at the state level is generated by [returns on investments in] the stock market,” he said. “So when we see the market essentially lose a third of its value, that has a real impact on revenue for the state.”

Districts have until April 21 to approve their budgets and deliver them to the state before voters are asked on May 19 to approve them.

School Votes Still On, as of Now

The annual school budget votes and trustee elections are on schedule for May 19, according to education officials.

Editor’s note: On March 30, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that school budget and trustee votes scheduled for April and May be postponed until at least June 1.

Three of the nine seats on the Beacon school board — those held by President Anthony White, Kristan Flynn and Craig Wolf — will be on the ballot. Candidates must submit nominating petitions signed by at least 100 qualified district voters to the district clerk by 5 p.m. on April 29. Call 845-838-6900, ext. 2032, or email pologe.k@beaconk12.org for information.

Three seats will also be open on the seven-member Garrison school board. One is for a seat vacated over the summer by Raymond O’Rourke and two are for full, 3-year terms for the seats held by Diana Swinburne, who also resigned over the summer, and Courtney McCarthy. (The candidate with the lowest vote total will fill the one-year term.) Nominating petitions are available by calling District Clerk Dusti Callo at 845-424-3689, ext. 224.

At Haldane, there is one seat up on the five-member board, held by Peggy Clements. Nominating petitions are available by emailing District Clerk Catherine Platt at cplatt@haldaneschool.org.

For Garrison and Haldane, petitions must be signed by at least 25 qualified voters from the district and filed with the clerk by 5 p.m. on April 20.

Benante said that if school buildings are still closed in May, preventing a vote, the state could allow districts to approve 2020-21 budgets without a public vote, similar to the way municipalities adopt their budgets; the vote could be done by absentee ballot; or the vote could be delayed.

Haldane’s proposed $25.2 million in spending for 2020-21 represents a $660,000, or 2.69 percent, increase over this year. Business Manager Anne Dinio said the allowable tax levy increase is higher this year than in the past because state aid for building dropped off, which affected the state’s calculation.

Haldane is still paying off a 30-year loan that expires in 15 years, but it was only getting state aid for the bond’s first 15 years. “So that variance gets added back to your tax levy limit and it allows us to tax more, because we’re getting less aid,” she explained at a recent school board meeting.

In addition to voting on the budget, Haldane taxpayers will consider a proposition that would allow the district to replace two buses.

Garrison

The Garrison district’s proposed 2020-21 budget is $11.48 million, which is about $400,000 more than this year’s, said Susan Huetter, the district’s business administrator, at a recent Board of Education meeting.

That increase is mostly due to a hike in instructional expenses, which are increasing $422,000, she said, and that was mostly in special education costs.

The state’s tax-cap calculation allows the district to collect about $9.5 million, which is $219,000 more than this year. With $917,000 expected to arrive in state aid, and $40,000 earned from interest, Huetter recommended the district use $1 million from its savings to balance the budget.

According to Huetter, over the last five years, district homeowners within the Town of Philipstown have seen a tax rate increase of 92 cents per $100,000 of assessed property value, while homeowners in Putnam Valley have seen an increase of 29 cents.

“We have the second-lowest tax rate in a five-county area,” she said. “The only school that is lower than us is Pocantico Hills” in Westchester.

Beacon

The Beacon district has proposed a $73.5 million budget. Under the tax cap, the district may increase its levy by $1.3 million, or 3.23 percent, to $41.6 million. That would increase the tax rate from $15.42 to about $15.44 per $1,000 of assessed value. Because property values have been rising in Beacon, the rate had dropped for four straight years, from $16.51 per $1,000.

During a March board meeting, Trustee Craig Wolf noted that recent re-valuations in municipalities may cause residents to see an increase in their taxes.

He said those increases were “not the doing of the district” but the City of Beacon, the Town of Wappinger and the Town of Fishkill.

According to Deputy Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi, the district was able to save some money in the 2020-21 budget because of eight teacher retirements and the growth of the tax base. However, the district expects its contribution to the teacher retirement system to increase by as much as 1.4 percent.

The facilities budget is expected to increase about $100,000, she said, which would include the purchase of a new dump truck with snowplow and the repair and resurfacing of the pool. In addition, the transportation department would like to spend $390,000 on two 72-passenger school buses and three 20-passenger buses.

The technology budget should decrease by nearly $270,000 — mostly with the help of nearly $200,000 in increased regional aid, as well as reductions in supplies and hardware — although Director of Technology Mike Kealy said the district needs to replace 250 outdated laptops used by students. The department also would like to increase its cybersecurity budget by 43 percent, he said.


HOW WE REPORT
Trust MarkThe Current is a member of The Trust Project, a consortium of news outlets that has adopted standards to allow readers to more easily assess the credibility of their journalism. Our best practices, including our verification and correction policies, can be accessed here. Have a comment? A news tip? Spot an error? Email editor@highlandscurrent.org.

One thought on “Schools Draft Budgets in Uncertain Economy

  1. So if schools are closed and many functions have been suspended. Heat, busing, fuel, etc. There should be a surplus of money? Where does extra saved money go? Will there be tax rebates to homeowners and business, or will it go to lower tax bills? Since we are all making sacrifices at this time.