GNH Lumber February 2024

Taconic Hills plans budget that lowers spending

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CRARYVILLE—Following a public meeting this evening, Wednesday, April 1, the Taconic Hills School District is scheduled to adopt a budget proposal for the 2009-10 school year that reduces the district tax levy.
     Wednesday morning the legislature in Albany was still rushing to approve a state budget agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders, and the delay has left local school districts stuck between a rock and a hard place. Concerned about the state’s huge deficit and widespread economic hardship, Taconic Hills district officials made major cuts in their proposal, offering voters a stripped down budget with a tax levy decrease of 1.91%. Even if voters were to reject the proposal next month, contractual obligations would not permit much in the way of further spending cuts, officials said.
     “We cut $3 million to get there,” said Superintendent Mark Sposato, who explained that the budget normally goes up between two and three million dollars each year because of cost of living increases built into contracts, and health and retirement benefits. This year, instead of getting larger, the school budget will shrink by almost 2%.
     “We’re stuck. We just have to wait and see what happens. We’re told the state is supposed to fund us back to the same level,” the superintendent said recently, complaining about the difficulty of creating a budget without knowing all the facts. If the state produces a budget by the April 1 meeting it may make things easier on the district.
     But the situation may be somewhat clearer when the board meets Wednesday evening, because the state released projected school aid figures Tuesday, which show all districts in the county receiving small increases in state assistance (see accompanying story). Taconic Hills will see a 2.4% increase in state aid in the new school year, the smallest increase among the six school districts in Columbia County.
     The impact of the state aid increase on the board’s budget proposal was not immediately clear. But before the state aid figures were released, Dr. Sposato said, “If we get more money from the state than we have approved in our budget, it can be used to keep costs low in the future.”
     “Our area has suffered quite a bit from the economic crisis. A high tax levy would be the worst thing. We have to be kind to taxpayers and protect our staff…. We took our current budget and lowered it by 2% to be mindful of everybody,” said Dr. Sposato.
     The school board’s last meeting was well attended by teachers and staff worried about possible personnel cuts. “We’re overstaffed. We need 24 people to leave…but if we get the money, we’re not going to lay people off. We can make cuts without impacting on kids. The district’s budget allows class size to remain the same,” the superintendent said.
     If personnel cuts do become necessary, they will be done according to union rules that protect those with the most seniority. Dr. Sposato said in a recent phone conversation that any cuts could be achieved over a two to three year period.
     “We will maintain the faculty which is doing an incredible job,” said board member Harvey Webber. “In 1975, when school districts were forced to adopt contingency budgets, the district lost “a lot of good people,” he said.
     “We’ve reached the perfect storm here. We’re struggling to get back to even. We’re dealing with a very ugly scenario,” board member Paul Robertson said.
     “If we’re lucky enough to get a lot of money from the government, we can’t use it this year,” said board member John Mastropolo
     The board is considering asking voters to approve a $15 million capital improvement plan, which could provide jobs to area contractors. Money for the project would come from some $9 million in district reserve funds that has grown over the last few years and accrued interest.
     The proposed school budget is scheduled to be posted on the Taconic Hills website April 1 following the public meeting at 7 p.m. in the boardroom. The web address is www.taconichills.k12.ny.us.
     School officials will brief the public on the budget May 12, and district residents will vote on the proposal the following week.
     At its recent meeting the board also heard a presentation by physical education teacher Angela Webster about a summer camp that will be offered by the school district “to help kids learn the skills they need to be successful on teams.” The program, which will be self funded with each camper paying $65, and will offer field hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, and softball. The district hopes to offer the new program annually.
     Scholarships are available. Campers must register before June 12.
     Also at the meeting middle school Principal Dr. Neil Howard reported that the school’s Odyssey of the Mind team won first place at a March 7 competition held in Troy.

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