$1.45 million in cuts needed for 2 percent tax increase
Scotia-Glenville Central School District would have to increase the tax rate by 7.7 percent to maintain all current programs and services offered, but district officials know that increase needs to be whittled down to meet taxpayers’ and the governor’s desires.
Superintendent Susan Swartz started preliminary 2011-2012 budget discussions during the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 14, and said state aid would be decreasing by $1,367,000, or 8 percent, for the district. To achieve a tax increase of 3 percent, Swartz said, the district would need to cut nearly $1.2 million. For each $256,000 in reductions, the tax rate would be reduced by 1 percent, with the carry forward budget totaling $47,912,029 and the almost 8 percent tax increase.
I need some sense of what is reasonable, said Swartz to the board. `If there are things that are non-starters for you, I would like to hear about that, but I will tell you tonight that I can’t promise I will not go and reduce those things. We are in a very tough spot.`
Most of the board members agreed to have a tax increase near 2 percent, which would serve as a trial for the district to meet the tax cap proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Also, board members seemed to agree on using around 2.5 percent of the district’s designated fund balance to help offset the burden.
`The 2 percent is like a practice run at the tax cap,` said John Yagielski, vice president of the BOE. `That is a value that is going to be approaching what we would likely have to do the following year, and I frankly think it is worthy of us to get our programs in a position that we can support at that level.`
Fellow board member Benjamin Conlon added with the current economic condition, a 2 percent tax increase is substantial enough for taxpayers to bear.
`A 2 percent tax increase is significant for a lot of people to have to pay in relation to it, and I think it is really incumbent upon us to really find a way to keep it below that,` said Conlon.
Board member Gary Normington cautioned the board to try to remain focused on what is best for the district once the cuts and reductions are proposed.
`We have to realize in setting these numbers, [Swartz] is going to come back with some pretty drastic cuts, and we are going to have to stick to our guns,` said Normington.
BOE President Pamela Carbone expressed her willingness to have a tax increase that is over 2 percent.
`I am willing to go a little, if we need to, to preserve programs,` said Carbone. `I would rather see us go more like 3 percent and preserve a little more of our programs. We have taken so much time over the 15 years that I have been on the board to get together a really good program in Scotia-Glenville, and I am scared, I am really scared that we are over the next couple years going to watch everything that we built up and put together torn down and torn apart.`
Without state involvement into mandate relief for the district, Swartz said it would be hard for the district and other districts to achieve a great deal of cost savings. She said the district needs help at a state level to address salary benefits and health insurance costs.
`In theory, there is supposed to be mandate relief,` said Swartz. `The deeper I get in this, it appears to me to be a much bigger problem than any individual school is going to have the wherewithal to solve.`
One possibility looming in the background is the proposal to close a smaller elementary school, which is presented to deal a savings of around $300,000. Spokesman for the district Robert Hanlon said the BOE hasn’t shown much interest in that proposal since hearing a presentation on an efficiency study in December.
Earlier in the night, Swartz discussed the results of an exit poll survey from the May 18 budget vote, which had 334 voters, with 241 `yes` voters and 93 `no` voters, completing the survey. Respondents were asked to select three items for preservation from a list of non-mandated items in the district. For both sets of voters, the college-level advanced placement coursers where the top selection.
`I do think there is data here that is indicative of what people have been trying to say,` said Swartz.
The importance of elective courses to students was also shown earlier in the evening, with current and former students from the science department, asking the district to keep elective science course offerings. Randy Jenkins, academic head of science at the high school, led the presentation.
`I can tell you also that a number of (Jenkins’) students were here tonight because they think we are going to try to cut some of those science courses and they are worried because those science courses mean a great deal to them,` said Swartz. `They will take the regents courses they have to take but they really want the opportunity to get at those elective courses.`
Swartz said what the district is trying to accomplish doesn’t change even light of such difficult budget constraints.
`The goals don’t change ` the strategies to reach them do,` said Swartz.“