Budget Preserves Opportunities for Student Success; Requires Supermajority Vote
Dear Community Residents,
At last evening’s Board of Education meeting and budget workshop, the Board concluded months of budget preparation and planning by adopting a proposed spending plan for 2016-17 that will be presented to voters on Tuesday, May 17.
As many community members are aware, planning for the 2016-17 budget has been an arduous task, given the unusual circumstance that districts across New York State have to contend with this year. While most people think of the tax cap as being “2 percent” as commonly touted in the media, this is misleading. The state sets the tax cap each year at 2 percent or CPI, whichever is lower. This year, allowable tax levy caps have been set at an all-time low, since there was a minimal change – virtually zero – in the Consumer Price Index.
For Elwood, our tax levy cap was set at 0.657 percent. To present a budget that falls within the restrictions of such a minimal increase would have meant large reductions in programs and services to students.
The budget adopted by the Board of Education represents a tax levy increase of 1.88 percent and an expenditure increase of only 0.68 percent. While the district has committed to staying at its allowable tax cap since the legislation was introduced, this increase does exceed our allowable cap for this year. In simple terms, although still under 2 percent, the proposed spending plan “pierces the cap,” thus requiring a supermajority of voters (60 percent or more) to approve the budget. In order to stay within the cap, we would have had to cut approximately $530,000, cutting deeply into programs and services for our students.
Making the decision to go beyond the cap is not one the Board took lightly. But quite frankly, the tax cap legislation, as currently written, is not functioning as it should be. How can districts like Elwood contend with a tax levy cap of less than 1 percent when we have numerous mandated expenses that continue to escalate? We are a district that has planned carefully for the future and has “played by the rules.” We have avoided pre-taxing our residents in past years to build up mountains of reserves to draw upon in times like these – a practice that has been criticized by the Comptroller in other districts.
When the tax cap legislation was introduced years ago, we looked to the future and set out on a multi-year path of building toward financial sustainability for the district. I am proud to say that we again have an opportunity to meet this goal while keeping below a 2 percent tax levy increase. We have achieved this task by realizing efficiencies and exploring many avenues to control spending, while still achieving our primary responsibility of providing a quality education for Elwood students. We have respected the wishes of Albany and our taxpayers by researching consolidation with neighboring districts, with no interest on their end. Our bargaining units have negotiated fair and reasonable contracts and have made numerous concessions to ensure that our district could continue to provide the best programs and services for students without over-burdening the taxpayers.
The tax cap legislation should not penalize districts like ours – districts that have planned well for the future. Furthermore, the fractional return of our tax dollars in the form of aid from Albany should also favor districts like ours.
So, while this year was unusual and challenging in terms of planning the proposed budget, I am confident that the spending plan adopted by the Board will help to continue our district’s trajectory of success. The proposed budget maintains the district’s nationally recognized academic programs, as well as instructional, music, fine arts, theater, co-curricular and athletic programs.
In terms of savings, three teaching positions are being reduced due to declining enrollment. While certain courses offered at the high school will not run for 2016-17 based on a lack of student interest, new courses are being offered in which some will offer college credit. Additionally, savings were realized in areas such as non-instructional technology and administrative salary/benefits.
I encourage all residents to learn more about the proposed budget by attending the upcoming budget hearing on Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Elwood Middle School. The district will also be sending out a budget edition of the Elwood Highlights newsletter. In addition, all budget information can be found on the district’s website, www.elwood.k12.ny.us
In closing, our students continue to succeed on all levels and our schools continue to be recognized for being among the top in the state and nation. This is due to a strong partnership between our schools and community and because of the commitment of all who call Elwood home. As always, thank you for your ongoing participation and support.
Andrew L. Kaplan
Board of Education President