Garrison School Board Endorses 10 Percent Hike

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Voters must decide whether to override cap

The Garrison school board on Wednesday (April 6) unanimously adopted a proposed budget that includes a 10 percent tax increase, well above the state-mandated cap of 2.2 percent. On May 17, voters will decide whether to approve the budget and “override” the cap, which requires 60 percent of the vote.

Superintendent Carl Albano said the district needs the increase to fund $12.36 million in spending for 2022-23, an increase of 6 percent from this year. The 2021-22 budget, which was below the cap, was approved in May by a 185-61 vote.

The board adopted the budget by a vote of 6-0. Madalyn Julian, the sole trustee not present at the meeting, expressed support for the budget in a message read by Board President Sarah Tormey. 

“There is no magic pill that that will save the situation and prevent us from making tough choices,” said Trustee Kent Schacht. “Without this override, we’re going to have to fundamentally change the educational experience of the school.”

“The stakes are high,” Albano told the board and about 50 members of the public who attended the meeting in the school gym.

Without the increase, Albano said, the district — which has 211 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and projects the same for next year — will need to cut programs and possibly limit the choice of high schools for its eighth graders. Garrison pays tuition to Haldane in Cold Spring or O’Neill in Highland Falls; it has 59 high school students this year and projects that will grow to 87 by 2024-25. 

If the override fails on May 17, the board can submit the same or a revised version of the budget for voter approval on June 21. The district could also adopt a contingency budget with no tax increase. Joe Jimick, the district business administrator, said a contingency budget would require $1 million in cuts to avoid depleting the district’s reserves. 

About 10 members of the public spoke at the meeting, most expressing support for the override. 

“Without this override, our kids, our community, our school will suffer,” said Ned Rauch, president of the Garrison School PTA. Amy Kuchara, president of the Garrison Teachers Association, also spoke in support. 

The lone dissenter heard at the meeting was former Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who urged the board to consider a 5 percent increase. “My concern is for the seniors in this community that want to stay in their homes and who are on a fixed income,” she said.

Even if the district raised taxes to the 2.2 percent cap, there would be a $1.3 million gap under the proposed budget, said Jimick. About 42 percent of the spending is driven by increases largely outside of district control, he said, such as health insurance, transportation and the tuition paid for its high school students, which Haldane has raised over the past two years to a state-determined maximum (expected to be about $21,500 per student in 2022-23), rather than a negotiated rate in which the district charged $13,980 per student in 2020-21. O’Neill also will charge its full rate, about $17,000.

The Garrison property tax rate is $9.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, which means that a property valued at $500,000 pays $4,875. If the district stays at the 2.2 percent cap, that rate would rise to $9.96 per $1,000, or $4,980. If approved by the voters, the budget would require a rate of $10.72 per $1,000, or $5,360.

Another factor that has impacted the budget is a proposed change to the formula used to determine state aid that would cost Garrison nearly $100,000, or provide 9.58 percent less than it received this year, because it’s a relatively wealthy community that is not considered “high need,” Jimick said. By contrast, the median increase in aid to districts in Westchester and Putnam is expected to be 17 percent, including 11 percent at Haldane and 18 percent in Putnam Valley. 

6 thoughts on “Garrison School Board Endorses 10 Percent Hike

  1. The Garrison school board has presented an order to the Garrison school community: We are expected to pay a 10 percent raise in our taxes to the school. How could this extraordinary amount be possible? Simple: no foresight, no savings, no consideration for the community. It would appear that the board members think that debt can always be solved with a card. But we are not your debit card.

  2. I intend to vote in favor of the budget and the hike in taxes. I attended two budget presentations by the administration and school board that were thoughtful, clear and very thorough. This year has brought a perfect storm of less state aid available to meet a cluster of unavoidable cost increases. In response, staffing has been cut and other economies taken.

    The administration has done a great job of providing Garrison’s students with a strong education during COVID, and deserve our support.

  3. The Garrison school district has proposed a budget that would exceed the state-imposed 2.2-percent cap on the tax levy. No one wants to cross that threshold. At a recent budget hearing, former Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra rightly shared her concern for seniors living on fixed incomes.

    And yet we must vote to support this budget. The cost of navigating the pandemic; significant increases in high school tuition at both O’Neill and Haldane; a spike in health insurance premiums; high inflation — these are all major expenses over which the district has little, if any, control. Where the district can exercise fiscal restraint, it has. For example, it reduced the size of the staff by several positions. There’s no fluff in this spending plan.

    Supporting this budget supports our school and its excellent administration, faculty and staff. But it also supports the kids who attend the school, who learn and grow on its campus. It prepares them for success in high school. It tells them, “We, the community, believe in you.”

    That’s a message all kids deserve to hear. On May 17, let’s pass this budget and tell our kids we believe in them.

  4. I have supported the district for over 20 years but I find this proposed 10 percent increase unreasonable.

    This is not the time to expect residents to support this. Enrollment has decreased, and the school board keeps kicking the issue of long-term viability down the road. If Haldane is asking for much more tuition than O’Neill for Garrison students, maybe we should not send our kids to Haldane. And why are we paying so much money in salaries for a tiny district? Why are we not cutting transportation?

    Other districts have increased the amount that employees pay for health care; it is part of collective bargaining. These are the same arguments we heard 10 and 15 years ago; the board has learned nothing and not made good fiscal decisions. It’s not maintainable. What happens when enrollment goes to 150? Are we willing to pay then? We pay $215,000 a year to a superintendent for 221 kids. Other districts that have thousands of students at multiple schools are paying that much.

    It is unreasonable to be asking seniors and people who actually work for a living to cut their own spending while the district makes no concessions. Not all of us live on our investments or have our money work for us. The board and the district should keep the entire community in mind, not just members of the PTA.

    This is not a private academy and the community isn’t all rich. For some people on fixed incomes, $500 or $800 more a year is a lot of money. Others spend more than that on wine for the weekend. [via Facebook]

  5. This is the first override in more than 10 years. The district has been ensuring low taxes for decades. But a number of costs have impacted the district in an extreme way, the pandemic being one. Garrison has the second-lowest tax rate in five counties.

    I would say that the board has mainly kept taxpayers in mind, sometimes at the expense of the physical plant, hiring and educational mission. Transportation is determined contractually and one of its cost drivers is special-needs placements.

    If you eliminate school choice, I am guessing there will be an argument for consolidation, which would not save any money for Garrison residents. Health care is another huge problem; retirements, as well. There has been a huge increase because people are living longer and keep having babies.

    I contribute $13.70 per day. A 10 percent increase will take that to about $15 a day. Given what I would be paying if I lived elsewhere, it’s not a big ask. [via Facebook]

    Hoch is a former member of the Garrison school board.

  6. People want the taxes to be lower so they can live more comfortably but suggest lowering the salaries of district employees so they must live less comfortably. [via Facebook]