The Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) will seek voter approval on a budget of $66,426,716 for the 2022-23 school year, a decrease of $110,249 from the 2021-22 spending plan. Since presenting a draft budget in mid-March, the district has also reduced the tax levy increase from 2.7% to 2.36%.
“Overall, the budget is lower than last year,” SCSD business manager Jane St. Amour said at a school board meeting on Tuesday, April 19. “I believe it’s only increased by about $1.1 million over the last four years, which is an average increase of about $281,000 per year.
During the meeting, Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the proposed budget meets the district’s goal of keeping taxpayers first while meeting the needs of Saugerties students.
“We have an obligation to be fiscally responsible, but we’re also adding a huge amount of programming,” Reinhardt said. “All the electives that are added to middle school and high school, a lot of those electives are student-driven. These are courses that students want to take. We know the world they’re entering, so the fact that we can be financially responsible to our community and continually add programming is our job.
The budget was drawn up on the assumption that state aid was likely to decline due to a drop in construction aid, which corresponds to a reduction in debt service on the expenditure side. Between last month’s projection and last week’s presentation, the drop was about $3,000 less than expected. But state aid as a whole will decrease by $1,365,999, or 5.8%, from the 2021-22 total of $23,537,616.
But some elements of state aid are expected to increase in 2022-23, St. Amour said. Foundation assistance is expected to increase from $16,002,807 to $16,537,054; transportation assistance should increase from $2,000,968 to $2,309,298; and high-cost aid of $387,990 to $444,406. The decreases mainly relate to BOCES grants ($1,332,395, a decrease of $450,338) and construction grants ($305,207, a decrease of $1,634,298). The drop in construction aid is explained by the last installments of previous infrastructure projects in the district.
The largest increases are seen in the administration of BOCES and an upcoming capital project, increasing the district’s share from $957,126 to $1,292,639, a jump of 35.05%.
Other increases include a 26.3% increase in technology costs to $1,467,294; a 10.35 per cent increase in school board and central administration costs to $1,807,826; and an 8.82% increase in sports and extracurricular expenses to $608,009, which is partly due to the addition of sports chaperones.
With the closure of Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 school year, the SCSD will cut the salaries of one principal, five elementary school teachers, three special education teachers, one teacher of physical education, the equivalent of 9.5 full-time. teaching assistants, a typist and 2.5 monitors, a total saving of $1,188,533.
“This is based solely on salary for those specific positions… It’s not the total savings, it’s just the salary savings,” St. Amour said. “Some of them are due to retirements or resignations.”
Through a pair of federal COVID relief stimulus packages — the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) and the US Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — the district will be able to cover the costs of both responses intervention teachers, two tiered system of support teachers, a reading specialist, a student dean, two literacy coaches, two math coaches, a credit recovery specialist, a program director and education, an accountant, four teaching assistants, a maintenance worker and a worker social worker.
At the elementary level, the district hopes to add a full-time librarian, a full-time reading instructor, and a full-time 5th and 6th grade teacher. In high school, they are looking to add a language teacher, a teaching assistant with a focus on special education, and two full-time teachers with a focus on business and technology.
Superintendent Reinhardt said the specificity of the additional staff came from the public and governance committee meetings.
“One of the district’s goals is for all students to be at or above grade level when they leave 3rd grade,” he said.
Part of that is ensuring elementary class sizes stay at or below 30 students.
“The contract says 30 for grades 5 and 6,” Reinhardt said. “This year we had two sections of 28 or 29. One of our goals, if we can afford it, is to have 25 or fewer classes across the district next year.”
During the presentation, St. Amour identified various district reserves and an estimated fund balance, specifically a capital reserve of $1,022,482. The budget proposal includes an increase of $1,209,488, which would bring the capital reserve to $2,231,970 and approach the district’s goal of $10 million.
“That would be used for future capital items,” St, Amour said. “That money would be there if we needed it to accomplish everything we set out to accomplish with this capital project if the prices came in a way that would allow us to do it immediately.”
Reinhardt said the district will continue to focus on its reserves.
“They’re still not funded where they need it, we know that,” he said. “We have a plan for all our reserves.”
The SCSD will hold a budget hearing at Saugerties High School on Tuesday, May 10. Voters in the district will determine the fate of the budget on Tuesday, May 17 with polls open at all four elementary schools from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.