The city Board of Education on Thursday approved a $154 million spending plan for 2008-09 that is expected to increase taxes by 2.3 percent.
The budget represents a $14 million increase over the current year, largely because of a substantial increase in state aid. The district is getting $94.7 million in state funding. A total of $49.5 million is to be raised by taxes.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael San Angelo had originally proposed a 2.8 percent tax increase. However, Board President Jeff Janiszewski wanted to use more of the surplus account to trim the tax increase by a half-percent.
If voters approve the budget, the tax rate would increase from $31.61 per $1,000 of assessed property value to about $32.33. The taxes on an average home valued at $75,000 would increase by about $54, to $2,425.
San Angelo explained that the $14 million increase in expenditures includes $7.2 million for salaries and benefits. Transportation costs are also increasing by $1 million, BOCES by $1.2 million and special education by $500,000. The district also has to spend $6.9 million on its Contract for Excellence programs, which is special state aid money directed to high-need school districts. In the current year, Schenectady used this money to open the Fulton Early Childhood Learning Center, add teachers at the middle school level and offer after-school programs.
School officials plan to offer more Contract for Excellence programs in the next academic year but have not yet determined what they will be. The Legislature changed the law so school districts no longer have to spend the contract money solely on new initiatives but can spend some of the funds to maintain existing programs.
Schenectady will also save about $3.6 million because it will no longer have to send money to the International Charter School of Schenectady, which is shutting down at the end of June. District officials have said the school’s students can be educated less expensively in the city schools.
The district had initially wanted to apply $3.6 million of its surplus to lower taxes. However, the state comptroller’s office on Monday had sent it a letter warning about the use of the fund balance.
San Angelo said it was more of a caution about not using more of the surplus than necessary. The state used to require districts to spend no more than 2 percent of their surplus, and it then raised that cap to 4 percent.
San Angelo adjusted his budget to use only $2,725,000 of the surplus. However, Janiszewski and the board directed him to use a little bit more to diminish the tax rate increase.
“This is still a community where taxes are a difficult burden, and we want to do everything we can,” Janiszewski said.
Janiszewski had said earlier in the day that he was surprised by the comptroller’s warning. “I didn’t think that we were being overly aggressive,” he said.
The matter now goes to a public hearing, which will be at 7 p.m. May 7 in the auditorium of Mont Pleasant Middle School. Voters will head to the polls on May 20.
Categories: Schenectady County