By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — The board of education has asked the school district to refine the proposed budget for the 2023-24 school year and find reductions that will bring down the tax levy for the coming school year.
The board of education held its latest budget meeting Feb. 27 and presented the program component of the proposed budget, the portion of the school budget that includes salaries and benefits for staff and faculty, textbooks, technology, extracurricular student activities, BOCES program costs and transportation.
Under the complicated tax cap formula for New York state, the district is permitted to increase the tax levy — the portion of the school budget paid for by taxpayers — by 3.10% for the coming school year, Business Official Janet Maassmann told the board. Going beyond a 3.10% tax levy increase would require approval by a supermajority — at least 60% — of voters in the May budget vote.
“For the budget that we are in right now, the 2022-23 budget, we are at $33,697,442,” Maassmann explained.
The preliminary budget proposed by the district for 2023-24 is at $34,469,126, a 2.29% budget increase. Since the previous board meeting, district officials reduced the rollover budget — the starting point in the budgeting process — by 0.9%.
The preliminary tax levy presented at the meeting was $18,299,792, which would still put the district behind.
“Right now, that would put us at a deficit in the budget of almost $290,000,” District Superintendent Michael Bennett told the board.
But board of education members asked district officials to come up with further budget cuts to bring the tax levy increase into the 2.5% range — well below the 3.10% increase permitted by the state.
“I would not be comfortable at that level (3.10%),” board of education member David Finch said. “I understand that cuts are painful, but I think that 3.1% is a bit much for our community. I truly believe that for most folks, the tax bill and the check that they write in September is the biggest bill they are going to write all year long and the seven of us (on the board) create that bill.”
Board member Jay Goodman agreed, saying that during last year’s budget development process he pushed for a 2.25% increase, but is looking for 2.5% this year.
“Dave is right — the community sees this tax bill as one of the biggest things they pay,” Goodman said. “I know we can go higher because it says we can by law, but I don’t know if the pocketbooks can manage that… Things are expensive, but I don’t know how I can ask these people to write a bigger number, so if you can find a way to live at 2.5%, that would be nice. If you can’t, I’ll think about it.”
Board President Tracy Young said the district needs to balance the needs of all parties, but that 3.10% is too high. There is also a misconception in the public about a 2% tax cap, which was announced by the state years ago, but in reality, the tax cap is determined by a complex formula and changes from year to year.
“I think one of the things the public thinks about is, they have 2% in their head, so even though we are allowed to go up to 3.10%, they think 2%, so I think there is a really fine line in balancing the needs of everyone — the students and the taxpayers and everything else,” Young said. “I don’t know if I am quite at 2.5%, but I am definitely not at 3.10%.”
According to the district’s presentation, a 3.10% tax levy increase would mean a budget deficit of $289,533 — the amount the district would have to cut to stay within the state-permitted tax cap. Reducing the tax levy increase to 2.5% would mean the district would have to cut an even bigger chunk from the proposed budget — $396,030.
Board member Angela Mauriello agreed the budget should be reduced, but wanted specifics on where cuts would be made.
“I would love for it to be at the 2.5%, but like Jay [Goodman] said, I don’t know where that $400,000 is coming from,” Mauriello said. “What are we cutting? Where is that money coming from?”
Board member Jim Goode Jr. said setting a tax levy goal is difficult without knowing what components of the budget would be cut.
“The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to the community, especially with the state our economy is in right now,” Goode said. “It’s very hard not knowing what would be cut out. I think we need to stay as low as possible, but I would like to see what is removed.”
The proposed budget, as it was presented last Monday, included the creation of a bowling team at the high school, the purchase of new laptops for all faculty as part of the district’s regular purchasing schedule, the addition of assistant coaches for sports teams, expanding work hours for some clerical staff from 10 months a year to a full 12-month-per-year schedule, and cost increases in numerous areas, including health insurance, though the district did come up with savings through a switch in the prescription benefit provider, Maassmann.
Bennett said the district will work with administrators and staff to find ways to cut the budget.
“It is a large amount — if you want to get down to the 2.5%, that would be nearly $400,000 that we would have to find among what was presented tonight to get to that number,” Bennett said. “It’s a process — it will require a lot of discussion among our administrative group in order to find that money.”