The trickle-down effect of financial troubles at the state level will be felt in many local school districts this year as school boards struggle to keep tax levies down while making up for the loss of thousands in state aid.
Voting on proposed school budgets for all area schools will take place May 18, and voters can expect to see at least moderate increases in every district. Contact your local school district for information on when and where polls will be open.
Under Gov. David Paterson's deficit reduction plan, the AuSable Valley Central School District was expected to lose $870,779 in state aid. Superintendent Paul Savage, II is hoping at least $357,000 will be restored by the State Legislature.
"Although the governor states that "most schools" will be able to cover the aid reduction with their existing fund balances, we are certainly not one of those districts," said Savage, noting that the cut represents nearly half of the school district's fund balance.
"We have done our very best to build a modest reserve under good fiscal management, within the state guidelines, and with a desire to protect taxpayers in tough times. Now we are being penalized for following such guidelines."
The proposed budget for 2010-2011 will increase $201,256 from the current year's to a total of more than $25.5 million, a 0.76 percent rise. Likewise, the tax levy will rise $301,823 to just above $11 million, a 3.1 percent increase.
The resulting 3.1 percent tax rate increase will take the per-thousand rate from $14.96 to $15.43.
The increases come despite a scaling-back of staffing, which includes the loss of three teaching positions due to attrition and one due to a leave of absence. One position for a licensed practical nurse is also planned to be cut.
The proposed budget reduces contractual and supply expenses by 25 percent, delays computer purchases for one year, and reduces funds for curriculum development during the summer and character education programs during the year.
"Our philosophy is to provide a high quality education for our students, and it has been a real challenge to minimize the impact on programs and services with a cut in aid of $870,799," said Savage. "Overall, we are proud of the educational programs and results we have achieved at AVCS, and during these challenging times, we believe that this budget meets the needs of both our students and the community."
A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Monday, May 10, 6:30 p.m. at the middle-high school auditorium.
In Westport, the proposed 2010-2011 budget expenditures total $5.2 million, up $125,394 or 2.4 percent from 2009-2010. The tax levy will rise $128,551 to just over $3 million, a 4.45 percent increase.
That equates to a $0.53 increase in the rate-per-thousand, bringing the annual cost to a taxpayer with a $100,000 home to $1,253.57.
The increases virtually mirror a $133,157 drop in state aid.
"The tax levy would have been much lower if the state crisis did not result in significant loss of state aid," said Westport interim Superintendent John Gallagher. "Increased costs of health insurance, contributions to state retirement systems, and increased costs for BOCES services were the only areas that the budget increased."
To offset those increases, the proposed budget includes a provision to save $75,000 by reducing the superintendent position to half-time, eliminating many benefits. One retiring teacher's position will go unfilled, and "significant cuts" to supplies and materials budgets were included.
"While this is a very tight budget, our programs have not been affected," said Gallagher. "Everyone is doing with less, but we still have much to celebrate."
The Keene Central School District will see a nearly two-percent increase in its tax levy under the proposed budget for 2010-2011, requiring $83,681 more from taxpayers than in the previous year. The total expenses would increase $63,298 to $5.24 million, a 1.22 percent increase in spending.
A state aid reduction of $40,383 is largely responsible for the added burden to local taxpayers, which will increase the per-thousand tax rate 15 cents to $7.90 in the town of Keene and $7.96 in the town of Jay, assuming no significant changes in assessments.
Meanwhile, there is a slight increase anticipated in enrollment at the school: 175 students, up from 172 the current year.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 7 p.m. at the school.
Check The Valley News next week for budget summaries for other local school districts.