Beacon Schools Propose 3.3% Budget Increase

Voters will decide May 16; four board seats open

Although Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislators have yet to resolve New York State’s budget, the message around education funding has been clear enough for the Beacon school board on Monday (April 17) to adopt the district’s 2023-24 proposed spending plan. 

The $81.3 million budget, up 3.3 percent over the last fiscal year, will be on the ballot May 16 for voter approval, along with four seats on the nine-member school board and three propositions related to student transportation.

After accounting for Beacon’s tax base growth factor, which is one of the highest in Dutchess County, the school district will be allowed to collect $45.9 million in property taxes — an increase in its levy of 3.64 percent, or $1.6 million — without exceeding its state-mandated tax cap. However, because state aid accounts for the bulk of the remainder of the budget, estimated tax implications on district residents were not immediately available. 

Hochul and state Senate and Assembly leaders are three weeks past the April 1 deadline to pass a budget, but the holdups have largely been around bail reform and housing plans. The governor’s proposed spending calls for $34.5 billion in school aid, including a $2.7 billion increase in foundation aid, an all-important allocation which uses a formula to send money to schools with high-need students. 

Funding for free school meals, a lightning-rod issue since federal funding for the program expired last year, is also included in the Senate and Assembly’s budget proposals. 

If adopted, the Beacon schools budget would add a full-time pre-K staff member, allowing the district to offer six full-day pre-K classes at its elementary schools. A world language teacher would be added at Beacon High School, replacing a retiring staff member, and a second social worker would be hired, giving the district full-time social workers at the high school and Rombout Middle School.

The budget would also add a world language teacher at the middle school, reducing class size there and easing the burden on language instructors who have been teaching extra classes. A part-time music instructor and full-time teacher to support students not meeting grade-level expectations would also be added. 

A teacher assigned to assist staff in developing strategies to help struggling elementary and middle school students would also be added, as well as a social/emotional coordinator at the elementary level and two math intervention teachers in the elementary schools. 

Superintendent Matt Landahl called the staffing proposals a “next step” in the district’s plan to create mental health and academic support structures for students. 

The budget also includes funding for new musical instruments, art supplies in the elementary schools and general support for clubs and other afterschool activities and family events, such as kindergarten orientations at all four elementary schools. If approved, the funding would allow the district to expand family resource night, a series of workshops held at Sargent Elementary and tailored toward meeting students’ social and emotional needs, to the other three elementary schools, as well. 

“There’s so much research that talks about how the student’s connection to school happens in lots of different ways,” Landahl told the school board on Monday. “An afterschool activity, whether it’s a sport, or music or drama, or just an interest club, can connect a student in a way that sometimes the first period to last period doesn’t. That connection isn’t just a high school or a middle school thing; it begins in the middle of elementary school.”

Voters will also be asked to weigh in on three propositions. The first would allow the district to spend $526,500 on three 72-passenger buses and one 20-passenger van. A second would give the district the OK to spend $466,000 on an electric school bus, but only if it receives subsidies, likely in the neighborhood of $250,000, to offset the cost. 

State law requires that school buses purchased after 2027 run on electricity; all 50,000 gas-powered school buses in New York must be replaced by 2035. This purchase, if it happens, would be Beacon’s first step toward the mandate. 

“We want to make it fair [for taxpayers],” Deputy Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi said. “We want to make it as close to the cost of a regular bus as possible.”

The plan, she said, would be to integrate the electric bus into the district’s transportation schedule and begin training mechanics for its maintenance. “Then we’ll come up with a plan for how we get our bus garage to the point that we start converting more of our buses,” Quartironi said. 

A final ballot proposition, if approved by voters, would make K-12 students who live more than a mile from their school eligible for bus transportation. Currently, students must live a mile and a half from school to ride a district bus. Quartironi said the move would come at minimal cost because few Beacon school buses are at capacity. The district hopes to improve attendance by targeting “certain areas [where] children have difficulty getting to school,” she said. 

The district will hold a budget hearing during the school board’s May 8 meeting. 

Also on the ballot: the board seats held by Kristan Flynn, Anthony White and Craig Wolf, as well as the seat vacated by Antony Tseng, who resigned last month. Candidates have until 5 p.m. on Wednesday (April 26) to submit nominating petitions. Flynn and White have said they intend to run again. Wolf said he does not.

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