Schools tackle cutbacks as budget woes loom

in

By Joe Moskowitz
It’s spring, that time of the year that school superintendents fear the most. It’s the time of the year that they have to present their boards of education and then taxpayers in their districts with budget requests for the next school year. All of the schools have the same basic problems, rising costs and taxpayers unwillingness or inability to spend more.

Readers should be aware that the two-percent tax cap that the state imposed on schools and municipalities is not really two percent. There is a formula based in part on the consumer price index, inflation that is used to calculate how great a tax increase the state allows.
The Margaretville Central School Board of Education will see a preliminary spending plan Wednesday, April 17. It will call for a levy increase of 2.24 percent. The state cap would have allowed it to go as high as 3.39 percent.

The new state budget gives MCS about $120,000 more than when Superintendent Tony Albanese and Treasurer Karen Dietrich began working with on the budget, but that, and the tax increase, aren’t nearly enough. That’s because MCS is faced with a 12.75 percent increase in health insurance costs. That includes retirees. And a whopping 16.5 percent increase in other retirement costs, which are state mandated.

In order to pay the bills and not reduce the quality of education programs, Albanese is asking the board to agree to make some serious cuts. A special education teacher, a full-time teacher’s aide and two part-time teachers aides would be eliminated. Two teachers who are retiring would not be replaced.

In addition, in what has become an annual tradition, the district would dip into its reserve fund balance for $500,000. Albanese says they are very careful how reserve funds are used, but at this rate it would be exhausted in about three-and-a-half years.

On the bright side, because of grants, MCS will be able to offer more advanced placement courses. The rejuvenated band program will get new instruments and Universal Pre-K is being expanded to a full-day program.

Andes Central School is facing a whopping 37 percent increase in retirement costs, and health care costs going up by 10.75 percent. Andes Superintendent Dr. Robert Chakar’s budget calls for a levy increase of 2.18 percent. The state cap would have allowed it to go as high as 4.29 per cent. Dr. Chakar says for a home valued at $150,000, that would amount to a tax hike of about $1.87 per month. Andes received a boost in state aid. It is replacing an elementary teacher who is retiring and is combining the third and fourth grades into one.

Roxbury Central School is facing the same problems. Health and retirement costs are going up by more than $300,000. RCS is getting more state aid, but as with all schools, some of that is offset by losses of some money from the federal government. Superintendent Tom O’Brien is asking the board of education and the RCS taxpayers to approve a spending plan, which calls for a levy increase of 1.98 per cent. The state cap would have allowed the district to go as high as 3.67 per cent. In order to balance the budget, RCS is reaching into its reserves for $250,000. It will come from an unrestricted fund balance, or surplus and $401,000 will come from other reserves.