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State budget enables Mohonasen to keep tax levy increase within cap

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An unexpectedly-large increase in state aid enabled Mohonasen school district officials to curtail their proposed local tax levy increase to just over 1 percent – about one-fourth the size of the increase the board mulled prior to the state budget being finalized.

The school board last week adopted a $56.5 million budget proposal that will go up for voter approval May 18, which includes a 1.1 percent tax levy increase, right at the district’s tax cap. The increase is estimated to cost about $32 a year on a home assessed at $150,000.

A $1.37 million increase in state foundation aid, the state’s core education funding formula, set the stage for the district to rein in a levy increase that officials thought may have had to be as high as 3.5 percent before the final state aid numbers were approved by state lawmakers earlier this month.

The district budget would lift total spending nearly 1.3 percent, maintaining the district’s current programs, staff levels and target class sizes. But the increase in state aid allows the district to maintain its budget at a lower cost to the local taxpayers and allows the board to pull back somewhat on its use of general fund carryover to balance next year’s budget – from $1.6 million in general fund carryover earmarked for the budget this year to $1.2 million next year.

Superintendent Shannone Shine said the budget was the most positive one he has seen in his time in the district, and district business official Chris Ruberti said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the longterm course this year’s budget would set the district on.

Mohonasen benefited from a $1.4 billion statewide investment in foundation aid lawmakers approved in the state budget, and the district would continue to benefit if lawmakers make good on their promise to fully fund foundation aid over the next three years – as lawmakers wrote into this year’s budget, though have yet to come up with the money for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years.

If lawmakers do come up with the money to fully fund foundation aid over the three-year window, Mohonasen would receive around $1.9 million in new state aid in both the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 budget years.

Like other superintendents in the region, Shine said the foundation aid funding beyond next year is not yet guaranteed, but he added that the commitment from the legislature was a positive sign.

“It now has some credibility, whereas a month ago it pretty much had no credibility that this would be happening in three years,” Shine said of lawmakers fully funding foundation aid. “That would be tremendous news for Mohonasen.”

Separately, Mohonasen is set to receive around $6.7 million in direct federal aid, which can be used over the next three school years. The federal aid is accounted for as special grants and is not included in the general fund budget that goes up for voter approval. Shine said the district should only use the money for one-time expenses but suggested educators could be hired on a short-term basis to focus on supporting students who have not made the necessary academic gains over the past year.

Voters will also get to vote to fill three open school board seats, choosing from six candidates. The following candidates filed the necessary paperwork to appear on the ballot, according to Ruberti:

  • Incumbent board member Wade Abbott
  • Margaret Hurne
  • Bridget Craver
  • Elatisha Kirnon
  • Julie Power
  • Ericka Montagino

The order the candidates appear on the ballot will be determined by a drawing at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Voters also to consider $3.5 million capital project

Mohonasen voters will also be asked to approve a $3.5 million capital project on the May 18 ballot. The project is focused on the district’s most direct “health and safety” building needs and would help bridge the gap to a larger project sometime over the next five years, Ruberti said during the meeting.

The project would include the following upgrades:

  • New fire alarm systems at Bradt and Draper schools;
  • HVAC improvements at Bradt and Draper;
  • Roof repairs at Pinewood school;
  • The purchase of backup emergency generators;
  • A replacement to the hot water system at the high school;
  • Replacement of the high school bleachers, and;
  • Replacement of the high school pool filter and heating system.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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