It’s School Budget Time

Haldane and Garrison face challenging deficits

The superintendents for the Haldane and Garrison school districts this month released preliminary budget figures for 2021-22; although state and federal stimulus aid has not been finalized, both anticipate significant shortfalls. The Beacon school board is scheduled to review its early numbers, including the stimulus impact on the district, on Monday (March 22). 

Haldane

Superintendent Philip Benante presented figures to the board on Tuesday (March 16). Haldane’s state-mandated tax cap is 1.88 percent, meaning the tax levy cannot increase more than that amount without approval by at least 60 percent of voters. At 1.88 percent, the levy would translate to an annual increase of about $190 in property taxes on a home with a market value of $600,000, he said.

The district expects revenues of $25.7 million, which includes an estimated $2.99 million in state aid, Benante said. He didn’t believe Haldane would see much, if anything, from the federal stimulus package, given the district’s relative wealth. [Editor’s update: The district received $182,000.] The budget also anticipates $21 million from the tax levy, $800,000 in non-resident tuition from the Garrison district (whose students can attend Haldane High School), $645,000 from the fund balance and $250,000 from reserves.

Proposed spending is $26.9 million, leaving a gap of $1.2 million.

Benante outlined where the district will immediately save money, such as about $365,000 from teacher retirements and two positions related to COVID-19 that likely won’t be needed next year.

He also recommended reducing the number of administrators from seven to five by eliminating the middle school principal position and combining the duties of the director of curriculum and a new position of director of human resources. The elementary or high school principal would assume oversight of grades 6 to 8. These moves could save about $355,000, he said.

The district could save another $200,000 by reducing the number of teacher aides and $375,000 by eliminating a special education and a secondary teacher and one or two elementary teachers. If the latter occurs, class sizes at one elementary level would likely increase from 16 or 17 students to 20 or more, he said.

Finally, Benante suggested that the district charge the Garrison school more for its high school students. The current tuition is $13,980 annually, but the state allows Haldane to charge closer to $19,000. Benante suggested raising the rate to $16,264 in 2021-22 and to the full rate in 2022-23.

Benante noted his proposed cuts would generate $132,000 more than needed to balance the budget. “We won’t need to go this far, but we will have to consider some of this,” he said. “Even with additional state aid, and if some federal stimulus money makes its way to us, it’s not going to add up to $840,000” needed after immediate savings such as teacher retirements. 

A community budget forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday (March 23) via Zoom. The board is expected to adopt the budget on April 20, followed by a public hearing on May 4 and the vote on May 18. 

Along with the budget and two trustee seats held by John Hedlund and Margaret Parr (who has said she is not running), the vote will include a resolution to spend $175,000 on school buses.

In other business …

■ The School Reopening Task Force subgroups will discuss a plan to bring students back to campus. In a survey, about 100 families said they would like to complete the year all-remote, but Benante said administrators would reach out to see how many could be persuaded to send students in-person, even if only for the last five weeks in May and June. The district invited all seniors to attend on-campus classes daily starting March 22 and may invite students in grades 9 to 11 to return on April 19, although students could still opt for all-remote. 

■ Amanda Cotchen was hired by the board in February for $69,000 annually to succeed high school guidance counselor Kristen Mosco, who resigned. The board also appointed Kristina Masibo-Roling as girls’ varsity volleyball coach, succeeding Kelsey Flaherty.

■ The first day of school for 2021-22 will be Thursday, Sept. 2.

■ The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the school, following the remote budget forum.

Garrison

The district’s tax cap for 2021-22 is 2.46 percent. The preliminary budget is $11.7 million, while revenues are projected to be $10.8 million, creating a deficit of about $917,000, business administrator Joseph Jimick told the board on Wednesday (March 17).

Superintendent Carl Albano suggested that the district hire a full-time environmental education/science teacher for all grades at a cost of $138,000 annually and a full-time director of technology and instructional support. He also suggested replacing middle-school study hall with STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) classes.

To pay for those additions and close the gap, Albano recommended eliminating a teacher-on-special-assignment position and three of eight full-time aides. The budget also does not include the $41,000 per month the district is paying for iTutor, a program used by students who are all-remote. About 50 students were using the service in September, Albano said, but that has since dropped to 17. [Editor’s update: The district received $232,000 in federal stimulus funds.]

Jimick said the increase in tuition for high school students proposed by Haldane will add about $42,000 to 2021-22 expenditures. O’Neill High School in Highlands Falls, the other public-school option for Garrison students, charges the full rate of about $19,000 per student, he said.

The board has scheduled a community budget presentation via Zoom for 10 a.m. on Monday (March 22). It is expected to adopt the budget on April 7 and hold a public hearing on May 5, followed by the vote on the budget and four board vacancies on May 18.

In other business…

■ Albano said district enrollment is expected to increase from 191 to 207 next year, although he noted that kindergarten is the most difficult to predict. Twelve students are registered so far and the district anticipates 18 by the fall.

■ Albano said the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference has offered to maintain the trails in the Garrison School Forest at no charge.

■ The board on Wednesday adopted a three-year equity and anti-racism plan developed by a 16-member committee. Its priorities are to implement racially inclusive curricula and assessments; provide professional development and community training; and “create a safe environment of dignity, respect, empowerment and inclusivity.” 

The board also reviewed a proposed equity, diversity and inclusion policy that states, in part, that “all children deserve to have equal access to opportunity regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, the language they speak, religion or ethical values systems, physical ability or attributes, ability or disability status, political beliefs and other human differences.”

Further, it says, “curriculum and instructional materials for all grades shall reflect diversity and include a range of perspectives and experiences, particularly those of historically underrepresented groups,” and that “all curriculum materials shall be examined for bias by the superintendent or designee(s).”

■ The board on March 3 adopted a policy that allows the use of paper ballots instead of machines for the annual budget and trustee votes, which the district clerk said could save about $2,000 annually. The vote last year was conducted entirely by paper absentee ballots under COVID-19 restrictions.

■ The board considered a change to district policy for the “response to intervention” process to identify students who may have learning disabilities. Screenings of students at every grade level would take place three times per year.

■ The board accepted the resignation of Jennifer Kirschenheiter, the middle-school English teacher, effective Feb. 12.

■ The first day of school for 2021-22 will be Thursday, Sept. 9.

■ The next meeting of the board is scheduled for April 7.

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