Plan would cap school district contingency budgets

Voters and officials in school districts everywhere are bound by the same rules: school districts have two chances to present a palatable budget to voters. If both are turned down, then a contingency budget calculated by a state-set formula must be used.

Voters in the Schenectady City School District had a difficult choice to make last week: a second and final budget proposal with a 5.8 percent tax levy hike, or a $160.6 million contingency budget with a 15.8 percent tax hike.

In they end, they narrowly approved the proposed budget, but now two assemblymen are moving to close what they say is the loophole in school budget law that allowed the contingency to soar so high in the first place.

James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, and George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, introduced the School Budget Vote Fairness Act on Monday, June 22. They say it will keep voters statewide from being presented with choices like that in Schenectady.

There's a potential for this to happen in any community, and I don't think our constituents want to be threatened by an 11 percent increase when they voted down the original budget, said Tedisco.

While a 4 percent increase cap is already written into the contingency budget formula, a provision allowing schools to adjust above that cap for expected enrollment increases was the cause of the situation in Schenectady. The lawmakers' legislation would not allow schools to exceed the cap under such circumstances.

The district planned for a 471-student increase in the contingency budget, a number based on a study from an independent consultant. Tedisco said that number was "inflated" by 200 in order to drive up the contingency budget.

"[The Schenectady contingency budget] broke the straw over the camel's back," said Amedore. "A contingency budget should be under the initial budget."

Information provided by the state Education Department does indicate that a contingency budget is designed to be less than a budget turned down by voters. A department representative said the department has not yet received the bill text and could not comment on it.

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