The Northville Central School District’s school board adopted a $9.7 million 2011-12 school budget Wednesday morning that carries with it a 21 percent tax levy hike as well as cuts to staff and sports.
Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty said the proposed tax increase and program cuts should be blamed on the tax delinquency of the Hudson River Black River Regulating District, which is her district’s largest taxpayer, and cuts to state education aid.
“We are owed $659,000 in property taxes by the Hudson River Black River Regulating District. So 15 percent of our proposed tax levy increase is directly attributable to the fact that the state won’t pay its own taxes. We also lost $866,700 in [state education aid] over the last three years,” she said.
HRBRRD has had no funding with which to pay its local property taxes since a federal court ruled in 2008 that it could no longer pass the cost of its property taxes on to downstream hydroelectric plants. Northville and other affected school districts in Fulton County have filed a lawsuit against HRBRRD and the state for not paying taxes for each of the past two years.
Northville’s adopted budget increases spending by 2.42 percent, or about $229,000. The district is also spending $130,000 from the federal Education Jobs Fund to help save two teacher jobs. State rules prohibit the federal jobs funding from being included in a district’s spending plan; it has to be accounted for separately. When the federal jobs money is added, the total spending increase for Northville is about 3.7 percent.
Northville received only $40,000 in additional state aid from the last-minute state budget deal that restored about $280 million in aid, mostly to upstate rural school districts. Northville didn’t get much aid restored because New York state’s “combined wealth ratio,” one of the factors in the state’s complex aid formula, views the tiny district as having slightly above average wealth for a school district, largely because of the high value of its vacation home properties.
“That’s why we don’t get much help at all, ever,” Dougherty said.
The adopted budget eliminates three teaching jobs: two elementary school teachers and one high school Spanish teacher. Three teachers were cut to part-time: one high school English teacher, a social worker and an elementary school librarian. Four support staff positions were eliminated, and one was cut to part-time.
Cutting teachers in Northville is more difficult than in most districts because Northville’s teachers’ union’s contract includes a maximum number of students that can be taught in every grade level.
The school board had considered eliminating kindergarten or going to half-day from full-day kindergarten, but the adopted budget maintains the kindergarten program. However, the fate of full-day kindergarten will remain uncertain until July 1.
Dougherty said the district’s teacher contract allows there to be no more than 25 pupils enrolled in kindergarten class by July 1, or else the district will have to cut back to one teacher teaching two half-day classes or hire another kindergarten teacher. More students can enroll on July 2 provided the district puts a teacher aide in the classroom. Dougherty said there will be a full-time teacher assistant in kindergarten for the 2011-12 school year, so the district can maintain the full-day kindergarten program, provided there aren’t more than 25 pupils enrolled on July 1.
“We feel good that we saved kindergarten. If it’s necessary, we’ll go to a half-day kindergarten, if the numbers exceed what we’re allowed by contract,” Dougherty said.
The district’s teachers’ union has agreed to a pay freeze that has saved about $85,000. The district’s non-union employees will also have their pay frozen.
“We appreciate the salary freezes accepted by the teachers association and the non-unionized staff members,” Northville School Board President Lynne Paul said in a released statement.
The adopted budget maintains the district’s modified sports programs but eliminates stipends for its modified sports and junior varsity coaches. The district will eliminate its junior varsity soccer, softball and baseball teams. The junior varsity basketball team is funded, provided the district can find someone to coach it for free.
“We’ve had some people come forward and volunteer to coach. We felt that as important as sports are, our curricular programs had to come first, so we’re putting a challenge to volunteers out there to the community for people who have coaching certifications. We will also pay for people to get certified,” she said.
With services being cut and taxes spiking dramatically, there may be little incentive for district residents to approve the budget on May 17. Some question remains among Northville school board members as to whether a contingency budget, which can usually include a spending increase equal to the increase in the consumer price index, might spend more and include a higher tax levy increase than the adopted budget.
“There is a state law that says a contingency budget has to be below an adopted budget, but our board may contest that law,” Dougherty said.