School budget’s tax hike criticized

Taxpayer activist Jack Kinzie said Friday he understands the Gloversville School District’s financia
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Taxpayer activist Jack Kinzie said Friday he understands the Gloversville School District’s financial problems but said he doubts voters will approve the proposed budget requiring a 6.9 percent tax increase.

Kinzie, founder of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association, said “it doesn’t bode well for the district” that the tax levy increases in surrounding districts range from zero to 2.7 percent.

On Thursday night, after cutting $570,000 from its initially proposed increase, the Gloversville Board of Education adopted a $50.69 million budget plan with the 6.9 percent tax levy increase. The levy is currently $11.3 million.

Though up about $3.9 million over current spending (about 8 percent), the final proposal is about $1.3 million less than the board was evaluating a week ago.

District officials were able to gain $200,000 in health insurance premium concessions from the Gloversville Teachers Association and the administrators association, $200,000 in as-yet-unidentified staff cuts, about $100,000 from cuts in extracurricular programs, $50,000 by eliminating seventh grade modified sports next year and the remainder from $20,000 from various areas.

“I understand the taxpayers are strapped beyond belief,” said school board Vice President Perry Paul.

Paul said voters should consider that over the previous two years the district tax increase has been a total of 3.6 percent — last year at zero and the year before at 3.6 percent. With 6.9 percent for 2008-09 added, the average over the three years would be 3.5 percent annually during the period, he said.

Another factor that could make the increase more acceptable, Paul said, is the revaluation of properties in Gloversville, which expanded the tax base by about 25 percent. The revaluation should substantially reduce the school tax rate in the city, Paul contends. The current rate is $22.42 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Paul said he expects the rate to fall into the teens.

Business Administrator Steven Schloicka said he is reluctant to make calculations until the city has completed what are expected to be busy grievance proceedings this spring.

School officials were predicting a modest tax increase until two weeks ago when the state Education Department added the district to the state’s Contract For Excellence program. The designation restricts use of $1.8 million of the district’s $2.7 million state aid increase. The $1.8 million must now be spent on new programs.

“It makes no sense at all,” said Paul, noting that the district has already addressed poor standardized test results for special education students at the middle school. It was because the district’s middle school is still on the list of schools needing improvement in a year in which state aid increased by more than 10 percent that qualified Gloversville for the contract program.

Paul and other school officials have said the middle school’s special ed students were expected to pass last winter’s exam in English language skills, which would remove the school from the state list as of June.

Schloicka said school officials have inquired with state education officials about being removed from the contracts program should test results released in June meet standards. But, Schloicka said, state education officials contend the law is written to compel participation if a district is on the improvement list as of April 1.

Schloicka said the district is still hopeful Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, can obtain special “bullet aid” for Gloversville, as he did last year.

Farley aide David Smingler said Friday that the district should not expect the $350,000 in bullet aid it received last year. Rather, the district is more likely to receive about $120,000, the sum it was denied in the final aid allocations, he said.

Smingler said Farley is proposing legislation that would remove a district from the Contract For Excellence program if that district’s problems are deemed corrected before the next school year.

Paul said the board made such deep cuts in the proposed budget just to achieve the 6.9 percent levy increase that a contingency budget would impose a levy increase of 19 percent. A contingency budget could be adopted as final if voters reject this proposal.

Schloicka confirmed that scenario Friday, calculating that a contingency budget could be as high as $52.07 million with a levy increase slightly greater than 19 percent.

Kinzie said he sympathizes with the district over its Contract For Excellence dilemma but said the proposed budget is much like the proposal in 2006-07 when a 6.9 percent increase was rejected by voters, who in a second election approved a 3.6 percent increase.

Kinzie complimented teachers and administrators for offering to increase contributions to the health insurance plan from 16 percent to 20 percent.

Categories: Schenectady County

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