Saratoga Springs — City School District voters will be asked next month to approve a 3.9 percent levy increase aimed partly at absorbing a big drop-off in state building aid associated with projects from over a decade ago.
District officials also plan to boost its use of budget reserves over the next two budget years, including a $2 million increase in the proposed $125 million 2018-2019 school year budget, which the school board approved last week.
The district expects to receive about $3.3 million less in building aid from the state next school year – an over 50 percent decrease. Tim Hilker, Saratoga Springs assistant superintendent for business, said the building aid was tied to capital projects from about 15 years ago. While that state aid is coming off the books, the district still has debt payments for the next two years associated with those old projects.
“We are plugging the $3 million hole with the reserves and fund balance and tax levy,” Hilker said.
Hilker said the district is essentially dedicating a 1.4 percent increase in the levy, and the increased use of budget reserves, to covering the shortfall in capital costs. He said the district is looking to plan capital projects to avoid a similar fiscal cliff in the future.
The rest of the levy increase – about 2.5 percent – covers the district’s rising personnel costs and a few staffing additions.
The budget supports six new staff positions and maintains a position that was added during the current school year. The new additions, which will cost around $465,000, are driven by rising needs in special education students and English language learners, Hilker said.
The new positions include staffing a special classroom for an influx of kindergarten students with special needs, teaching assistants dedicated to students with specific needs and a teacher that will serve English language learners across the district.
“Those were things that were almost entirely a necessity,” Hilker said.
Parks projects and a house purchase
The May 15 public budget vote in Saratoga Springs will also include a referendum on a $15.6 million capital project to make improvements at two district-owned community parks – East Side and West Side Recreation parks – as well as outdoor facilities around the district.
The project includes a new multi-purpose field behind the high school and a concession stand and bathroom at the high school football field. Every school in the district will receive some outdoor upgrades under the project, including improved lighting and fencing, new handicapped-accessible playgrounds and a new outdoor learning space at Greenfield Elementary School.
At East Side Recreation, plans include a new baseball field with a turf infield and renovated seating, construction of a new field house with a concession stand and bathrooms, new picnic areas and pavilions, a new fitness trail, and a resurfacing of the basketball and tennis courts.
The plans call for replacing perimeter fencing at West Side Recreation, as well as enlarging Little League dugouts and resurfacing basketball courts there.
District officials said the project, which they are calling the “Great Outdoors Project,” will not require new taxes on local residents. It will be paid for with $7.5 million in capital reserves and by replacing about $8 million in expiring debt from old projects.
In a separate question, voters will also be asked to support the $100,000 purchase of a property that sits in front of Greenfield Elementary School. The owner of the property gave the district the first right of refusal to purchase in his will, Hilker said.
If approved by voters, Hilker said, the district would demolish the house on the property to make way for upgrades to the school’s parking and bus loop.
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