CHATHAM–The state has a law that calls for a cap of 2% on local property tax increases. But the law allows for some exceptions, which explains why Chatham School District Business Administrator Michael Chudy told the school board earlier this month that district’s 2013-14 school tax levy increase limit is 4.34%.
If the district proposes a tax levy increase for the next school year at 4.34% or below, the budget will pass if it is supported by a simple majority of voters at the May 21 school budget election. But a budget proposing an annual tax levy increase above 4.34% would need a supermajority of more than 60% of the votes cast.
The percent increase is determined by a state formula under New York’s property tax cap law signed in 2011. Chatham’s total allowable tax levy this year will be $20,825,187. But it’s not yet clear what budget figure the school board will propose, because district officials are still reviewing the spending plan.
In a phone conversation after the March 5 meeting, Mr. Chudy said that pension costs will be 4.41% higher in the 2013-14 budget than in the current year. But the tax cap law exempts some of the pension cost increase as a way of accounting for inflation. So for 2013-14, almost half the pension cost increase in the Chatham School District is not subject to the cap.
“That 2% [cap] is very misleading,” Mr. Chudy said after the meeting.
At the March 5 school board meeting board member John Wapner asked whether the state formula makes it difficult for districts to save money. Mr. Chudy said that it does because of the constraints on the property tax levies.
Board member David O’Connor suggested the board take the tax levy to its limit of 4.34% in the budget this year because of the limits of the tax cap.
“If we raise anything less than 4.34, then it creates a far greater burden for the following years,” he said. “Because whatever we don’t ask for from the public, we can’t make it up in the following years.”
The final budget proposal will go before voters May 21.
Mr. Chudy also presented the draft of the instruction section of the 2013-14 budget proposal. Last month he went over the administrative portion, and plans to present the final part of the draft budget at the next board meeting.
There would be a total increase of $178,620 in costs for instruction, with the largest part of it $147,918 in teaching expenses. There was also a $71,595 increase in curriculum development and supervision, which Mr. Chudy attributed to a shifting of funds.
Hanna Bachrach, director of the Chatham Public Library, talked to the board about the library’s budget. The request is for an increase of $18,918, which Ms Bachrach said is “due almost entirely to increases in salary and retirement benefits.” She said that the draft shows an increase of $1,000 in supplies because of increased activity at the library since she took over in August.
“One of my main goals over the past six months has been to develop a more robust calendar of library programs and events, both for adults and children,” she said.
Board member Jennifer Lindberg said she has noticed the increase in activity, and commended Ms. Bachrach for it.
Also at the March 5 meeting:
*Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo proposed that the board to add the position of dean at the elementary school. She said that school has the most students and least administrative support. This would be a 0.4 position with a stipend of $7,387.
“The idea is that the dean can take over some of the student discipline and some of the management responsibilities,” she said
*Ms. Nuciforo said that the MED afterschool homework help program proposed last month would cost between $6,500 and $7,000. The proposal was made to the board on February 12 by elementary school Principal Kristen Reno. Ms. Nuciforo said that some of the costs could be paid for by Title 1 federal grants
*Network System Engineer Giles Felton said that the district is currently following a replacement plan for technology equipment. Printers are being replaced and projectors have been installed on the ceilings of classrooms to eliminate the need for carts. Also, he said that the district is looking at moving to laptops throughout the district rather than desktop computers. He said the change would provide more flexibility. Mr. Felton said that the schools recently upgraded their Internet service in response to state requirements
*Ms. Nuciforo said that petitions for school board candidates would be available in her office beginning March 15 for the four seats on the board up for election in May. The petitions must be returned by April 22.
The next board meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.