by Alex Brooks
New York State passed its budget just two days before the Hoosick Falls School Board had to pass its budget, so the District was able to receive reliable numbers on State aid before locking in its budget. But the news on State aid was not all good.[private]
The figure used for State aid in the final budget, an increase of 0.6%, or $63,468, was no bigger than that used in the earlier budgets that were based on the Governor’s proposed budget. Business Manager Pam Hatfield said Foundation aid was up by $237,000, but the expense-driven aid categories did not work well for the District. She said the biggest hit was “Excess Cost” aid, which was $120,000 less than predicted.
The overall budget was set at $23,448,979, which is just about $104,000 less than this year’s budget. The tax levy increase that was needed to balance this budget is 1.1%, or $104,606, which kept it slightly below the tax cap.
The budget still includes additional programs and new staff. Several new programs will be added to the program for social and emotional learning, at a cost of $15,500; vocational training at the Career Development Center in Bennington will be added at a cost of $132,439, and riflery as a club and cross country running as a sport will be added at a cost of $18,702. Also, six teacher aides will be added at a total cost of about $220,000 – two in kindergarten classrooms, two to cover high school study halls, and two for students with special needs. Offsetting these additional costs are cost reductions from replacing retiring staff with new hires at lower salaries. Four teachers and two support staff will be retiring, and total savings for all six positions is estimated at about $116,000.
In the first two drafts of the budget, the fund balance applied to offset the tax levy was reduced from $2 million in this year’s budget to $1,750,000 in the budget for the upcoming year, but in the final budget the fund balance applied will be $1,820,376 – a reduction of $179,624 rather than the $250,000 the District was shooting for in the early drafts of the budget.
Salaries were up just over 3%, or $332,379 additional, but benefits were actually lower than the previous year. The budget for health insurance premiums is $22,000 less than the previous year, and that for retirement contributions is $205,000 less because the State-mandated contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System was reduced from 11.72% to 9.8%.
The transportation budget was reduced by $54,000 because of lower fuel costs, and the utilities budget was reduced by $112,500 because of lower energy prices.
Superintendent Ken Facin said he understands that the community’s expectation is that the School District will keep its increases as low as possible no matter what happens with State aid and he feels his team has met that expectation with an overall budget lower than the previous year and a tax levy increase below the tax cap, despite the tax cap which was originally advertised as a 2% tax cap having turned into a 1.1% tax cap this year. He said he knows the community wants the District to do more with less, and he said he has done so. He said the District has 30 less employees than it did 10 years ago when he arrived, although the number of students has remained pretty steady, fluctuating between 1100 and 1200, and the tax levy has increased by a total of 13.2% over that ten-year period.
Facin said he and his staff will continue to advocate for a more fair distribution of State aid, because he feels that rural schools have been disadvantaged under the current highly politicized school aid regime.
The Hoosick Falls School District is also planning to purchase two new 65 passenger school buses as part of its ongoing bus replacement policy, at a cost not to exceed $225,000. This purchase must be approved by the taxpayers and it will appear on the ballot as a proposition separate from the regular budget. 80% of the cost of new buses is paid by the State, and through the use of the District’s bus reserve to pay its 20% share, the bus purchase will have no impact to the taxpayer.
A Public Hearing will be held on the School Budget on Tuesday, May 9 at 6 pm, and the Budget Vote will be held on Tuesday, May 16 from 9 am to 9 pm. [/private]