By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — School budget season is here and the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Board of Education is eyeing the district’s spending plan for the next academic year.
School Business Manager Joanne Moran outlined one element of the district’s budget — the tax-cap calculation and how it will impact school funding — at the board’s Feb. 16 meeting.
“For the tax cap, every year when we do our budget and our spending plan that we present to the voters, we have to offset that with revenue,” Moran said. “One of the things that we have had to comply with is the tax-cap calculation.”
The tax cap is the maximum amount set by New York state, dependent on a number of factors, that a district can increase its tax levy on local residents compared to the previous school year. While the tax cap was dubbed a “2% tax cap” when it was first implemented in 2011, that number is a misnomer, District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said at the meeting.
“The word ‘tax cap’ is erroneous. A ‘2% tax cap’ is erroneous,” Bailey said.
The tax cap is calculated through a complex formula that is specific to each district, and this year’s cap for the RCS district is 4.94%, Bailey said.
“We don’t intend to go out anywhere near that number, but we could if we so chose under the tax cap law,” the superintendent said.
The district’s tax levy over the past two years has remained flat with a 0% tax levy increase. The last year the levy was increased, for the 2019-20 school year, the levy was increased 2.75%, when the tax cap was set at 5.59%, according to Moran’s presentation.
The 2022-23 school budget remains a work in progress, with several factors, including expenditures, still up in the air.
Last year the district levied less money from taxpayers than it was allowed to, and the difference can be carried over to this year, Moran stated.
“The difference between those figures… we can carry that over into the following year,” Moran said. “What impact does that have? That means that originally, before the carryover, the allowable levy limit was 4.59% and with that amount, it’s now 4.94%. Again, that is the maximum.”
That doesn’t mean the district will raise the tax levy by 4.94%, only that it would be allowable, subject to voters’ approval, under state law without requiring approval of a supermajority of voters. If the district were to raise the tax levy by the maximum, it would increase the district’s budget by $1,289,058 compared to last year, to a total $27,383,348.
Again, the tax levy and budget are still in the works and the actual levy increase is not yet known.
The district does expect to see some budget lines increase in the upcoming budget, including fuel costs and electricity. But there are other issues as well, such as contract negotiations that have not yet been resolved.
“The bigger things are the number of negotiation and bargaining units that are still out that we have not settled with,” Moran said. “There will be assumptions made to counter that.”
One change this year with regard to the budgeting process is that districts have been told how much they will receive in state aid. That figure in previous years was not finalized for several months after school budgets were due, leaving districts to determine their budgets with a big chunk of their funding — state aid — undetermined.
“This is the first time I’m going to say in all of my career where the state of New York has made it a no-nonsense budget,” Moran said. “They’ve told us what we’re going to get. We don’t have to be in limbo waiting for it.”
Board of Education President Edward Reville asked about bus purchases that will be on the ballot this year, and specifically about the governor’s stated goal to convert school bus fleets to electric vehicles over the next few years.
“I see a lot coming out with having to switch over to electric buses, but what other things would we have to do around here — obviously you can’t just go and buy an electric bus if you don’t have places to plug them in,” Reville said. “There is a lot more to it, but I see that the governor of the state has certain requirements that are five years out, 10 years out. If we go buy buses and finance them for five years, they’ve got to be electric by a certain time. We need to start planning or thinking about that now.”
Moran responded that the infrastructure will be the biggest challenge if and when districts switch to an electric fleet.
“The infrastructure that is going to cost school districts is what is going to be the hard part if they make us do that,” Moran said. “That will be the expensive part. That is one of those mandates where everybody goes, ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do it?’”
Bailey said that goal is in the future and it is unclear when or whether it will come to fruition.
“It is not at all unusual, and we’ve seen it through a number of presidential campaigns and missions since we’ve been alive, where they set goals and boundaries and they sometimes get pushed down farther because the infrastructure isn’t there or the materials aren’t there,” Bailey said.
For this year’s budget, in May voters will determine whether to approve the purchase of three 65-passenger buses and one 14-passenger van, fueled by gasoline.