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Hudson school board keeps its budget… again

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HUDSON — The school board voted 4 to 3 Tuesday, May 31 to adopt its original budget of $41,249,180 with a 9.8% tax levy increase. District voters rejected that budget at the polls May 17, but because the overall spending increase in the budget is below the limit the state sets for so-called contingency budgets, the board has the authority to adopt the budget without holding another public vote.

Contingency budgets are imposed when voters fail to approve a district’s budget. Most yearly spending increases under a contingency budget are limited to no more than the current cost of living. The cost of living increase as calculated by the government is currently set at 1.6%.

In Hudson, the Board of Education proposed a budget that increased spending in the next  school year by less than 1%. The board did that by cutting 30 jobs and applying most of its reserve funds. The law allows the board to adopt a budget if spending does not exceed the cost-of-living limit.

But all the cuts could not offset the loss of revenue from the state and federal governments. State aid to the district was decreased by $1.3 million as Albany struggled to balance the state budget. That left the district with a tax levy increase of nearly 10%.

Tuesday’s vote by the board marked the second time board members decided to adopt budget turned down by voters. Meeting immediately after the public vote on the budget May 17, the board adopted the rejected plan. But after hearing protests from members of the public at a meeting May 23, the board changed course, rescinded its resolution adopting the budget and promised to consider additional cuts.

Two workshop meetings followed at which board members considered numerous suggestions, including many from the public. But most believed the proposals were too complex to apply in the few days remaining before the deadline for adopting a budget. The district is required by the state to file its final budget by this week.

One recommendation had involved trying to get teachers to take a pay freeze, but, said board President Emil Meister said after this week’s meeting, “The board has no control over teacher salaries.” Mr. Meister said that like many taxpayers, both he and fellow board member Jeff Otty are retired and living on fixed incomes. “It’s not easy to find those additional funds,” he said.

Mr. Otty said that at the two workshops, the sentiment of the audience was different from the meeting that followed the first adoption of the budget. “Many members of the public spoke in support of the budget, and said they didn’t want more cuts,” Mr. Otty, who was also contacted after the most recent vote as were other members of the board.

“I had hoped we could find things to cut, but there was nothing left. The original budget committee did everything they could do. Further cuts would have destroyed the school and the community and more people would have refused to send their kids to Hudson,” said Jeri Chapman, the board’s newest member.

“There’s no victory and nobody is happy about it,” said Mr. Meister. “Some of the proposals are good but there’s not enough time to implement them. It’s a no-win situation.”

“I’m ashamed of this unadulterated insanity and greed. It shows no respect for the voters and tax ayers,” said school board member Peter Meyer, who had hoped for increased savings on the transportation line of the budget or at least a pilot program that would recruit more kids to walk to school. “If they graduated more than 60% and taught kids how to read and write, it would be different,” he said.

Ms. Chapman, Mary Daly, Mr. Meister and Mr. Otty voted to approve the budget. Elizabeth Fout, Peter Merante and Mr. Meyer voted against it.

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