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6.6% tax increase on ballot for second budget vote
Following the rejection by voters of its $12.36 million spending request, and a 9.18 percent tax increase, the Garrison school board on Wednesday (May 25) decided to try again.
The board approved a budget that includes $12.1 million in spending for 2022-23 and a 6.6 percent tax increase. A vote has been scheduled for June 21 on the revised numbers, as well as a measure that will allow the district to enter into a multi-year agreement with Haldane for high-school tuition.
Like the first budget, the revised spending plan exceeds the district’s state-mandated tax cap of 2.2 percent, meaning it must be adopted by at least 60 percent of voters. The first budget failed on May 17 on a 314-314 vote, with 30 percent voter turnout.
A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for June 14. If the revised spending plan is rejected, the district must adopt a contingency budget, meaning that the budget is frozen at the 2021-22 level with no tax increase.
Of 17 districts that attempted overrides of their tax caps this year, only two failed, in Garrison and Newfield, near Ithaca, according to the Association of School Business Officials of New York. Newfield had asked for a 14 percent increase, or 8.85 percent over its cap; the vote was 154-134, which did not reach the threshold.
Statewide, the average increase in school taxes was 3.2 percent, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. The tax cap was implemented in 2012 and Garrison was the first local district to attempt an override.
On Wednesday, Joseph Jimick, the district’s business administrator, explained how he and Superintendent Carl Albano had cut the district’s initial budget by $258,000.
Teacher would not receive raises in 2022-23, which would save $70,000. Lauren Johnson, co-president of the Garrison Teachers’ Association, said the teachers voted Wednesday afternoon to forgo a salary increase. “We do this to further help support the children of Garrison,” she said. A freeze on administrators’ salaries would save another $20,000.
The district would save $107,513 under a tentative, multiyear agreement with the Haldane school district for high-school tuition costs. Garrison educates children in kindergarten through the eighth grade; those who choose public schools can attend Haldane High School or O’Neill High School in Highlands Falls.
Haldane had proposed charging Garrison $21,473 per student in 2022-23, using a formula devised by the state. Instead, it will charge $16,500 per student, Jimick said. “Haldane made a significant concession,” said Albano. “They’re also protecting us with a multiyear deal.”
If the four-year agreement is finalized, tuition increases will be capped at 2 percent annually or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, Jimick said. Garrison residents will vote June 21 on whether to permit the district to enter into the agreement with Haldane. A similar agreement with the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery district was approved by Garrison voters on May 17.
In a statement, Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante said: “We are committed to ensuring that all students who have committed to Haldane have an uninterrupted educational experience and have informed Garrison that we will honor a tuition structure that allows these students to attend Haldane High School.
“We also stand behind the value of the Haldane experience and our responsibility to the taxpayers of our community. We will seek to work with Garrison to establish a tuition rate structure that reflects the commitment that our residents have made to support our schools.”
If tuition deals are ratified by all parties, they should put to rest concerns about the loss of high school choice, Jimick said.
Garrison school board President Sarah Tormey said that the revised budget saves money while maintaining the quality of the school. “We have listened to the ‘no’ votes in the Garrison community,” she said.
What Could Go?
At the Wednesday (May 25) meeting of the Garrison school board, Business Administrator Joseph Jimick said that if voters reject a revised budget on June 21 that includes a 6.6 percent tax increase, the district would need to reduce spending for 2022-23 by $642,355. He provided the board with a list of potential cuts that could achieve that.
■Arts programs, including fine arts, band, chorus and theater. Students would instead attend monitored study halls.
■Transportation within 2 miles of the school, which would impact 70 families. Other students would have longer bus rides.
■ One elementary teacher
■ The school psychologist
■ The dialectical behavioral therapist, a consultant who helps with student’s social and emotional needs
■ The environmental science teacher
■ The director of technology
The budget eliminates a part-time music teacher position to save $48,865; reduces the field-trip budget by $15,000 (parents will pay the full costs, Albano said); cuts a startup lunch program to save $10,000 (students will continue to bring their own lunches); and eliminates a Land to Learn program to save $20,000.
Tormey said the cuts will get far more severe if the budget fails again. “This isn’t a scare tactic,” she said. “A contingency budget will gut the quality of this school to a point at which it will take years to recover.”
If 60 percent of voters don’t approve the second budget, Jimick said the district would need to find another $642,355 in reductions and outlined some ways that could be done (see left).
Among them, instead of arts and environmental classes, students would attend study halls, which “is unacceptable by any educational standard,” said Albano. “To my knowledge it exists in no other K-8 programs throughout our region.”
If the override is approved on June 21, the tax levy would rise to $10.39 per $1,000 of full value. That means that a home valued at $500,000 would see an increase of $322 per year.
That would still be the lowest property tax rate in the county by far. Haldane’s tax rate is $17.01 and Brewster homeowners pay $27.74. In other areas of the state, the rates get much higher. For example, property owners in the Levittown Union Free School District on Long Island pay $42.52.
Garrison’s budget crisis is the result of several factors. With inflation up more than 8 percent last month, the district is facing rising costs for health care (14 percent) and transportation (12 percent).
As a relatively wealthy district, Garrison raises over 80 percent of its budget from its tax levy. By contrast, districts statewide on average receive 58 percent of their funding from local taxes, according to the Association of School Business Officials of New York. The remainder comes from state and federal aid; Garrison’s state aid for 2022-23 is nearly $100,000 less than this year, although it did get a one-time injection of money last month after lobbying Albany.