SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City School District is set to present a 2023-2024 proposed budget to taxpayers with $259.4 million in spending and no tax increase for residents.
The proposal represents a $20.2 million spending increase over last year’s approved $239.1 million plan, an 8.4% boost.
The proposed budget marks the sixth consecutive year that the district has presented voters with a plan with a zero percent tax increase.
“Since 2018 we have not raised school taxes,” Schenectady Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said on Thursday. “Some people will tell you that it’s bad practice and that you should get something from the [tax] base, but the community that we work in and the community that we serve, if we raise school taxes then landlords will just raise rent and it’s going to be a trickle-down effect. I’m proud to say this will be our sixth straight year without raising taxes.”
The Schenectady Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed budget during its meeting on April 19 in advance of the public budget vote on May 16.
The proposed spending plan includes a $7 million increase in general instruction costs and a $2.7 million increase in transportation costs.
The district is projected to receive $152.9 million in state Foundation Aid in 2023-2024, a $22 million increase over last year’s funding level.
At the school board meeting on Wednesday night, district Chief Financial Officer Terry Gillooley and Soler detailed a proposed public referendum for the district to purchase Keane Elementary School for $2 million. The district has leased the property since 2007 from the Catholic Diocese, with Soler telling the board it would be fiscally prudent for the district to purchase the property.
“We’ve been leasing it for 15 years and our lease price is about $250,000 per year, so we’ve already paid more that what it would take to buy it,” he said on Thursday. “So it’s not really a good fiduciary practice for us to keep leasing a building when we could own it and make modifications and change the layout because it would truly be our building at that point. Our ask is to buy it, so that if we need to make some major renovations or expand it as part of our revitalization plan, we can do that because it doesn’t belong to anybody else.”
Soler said the district has been in discussions with St. Luke’s Roman Catholic Church regarding a potential purchase of the property.
Board of Education President Bernice Rivera asked Soler during the Wednesday board meeting if the district considered other options instead of purchasing the building, with Soler replying that with the state’s increased Foundation Aid funding the district is in a strong position to purchase the property.
In addition to the school budget and the Board of Education elections, the May 16 ballot will also contain a referendum on a proposed $300 million capital project, the proposed Keane purchase and a separate proposal for the district to lease or purchase the former OrthoNY building on 530 Liberty St. for a district community center.
During the Wednesday board meeting, School Board Member Cathy Lewis asked the administration for a list of the referendums that are set to appear on the May 16 ballot.
Soler said on Thursday that the district would use the run-up to the May 16 vote to inform taxpayers on the budget and referendum votes residents will decide next month.
“I think our job from now until then is to try to educate folks on the various things that will be on there,” he said. “I think we’ll do some communication and mailings and videos to try and explain what voters are going to see on there.”
According to the district, the proposed purchase of Keane Elementary will have zero tax impact on residents, with the district planning to utilize savings from the 2022-23 budget to fund the acquisition.
Soler noted that the capital project is also not projected to have a tax impact on residents, with the money coming from the district’s capital reserves.
“I think we’re in a special place now and Schenectady hasn’t always been in this place,” he said on Thursday. “So I think now is the right time to pursue this. If it (the capital project) fails, then I think we have to come back and figure out why. The voters in Schenectady have been super supportive of schools and we typically have good approval ratings for our school budgets and I think that’s because we’ve been coming out at zero percent over the last six years.”
Contact Ted Remsnyder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @TedRemsnyder.