While no local school districts have indicated an intent to ask voters to override their tax cap this spring, a majority of districts are considering raising their tax levy by more than 2 percent.
The first look at how much districts expect to raise taxes shows districts across the Capital Region facing a wide spectrum of budget scenarios. From Schenectady expecting to leave its levy flat or potentially cutting the tax levy to Johnstown considering a tax levy in the double digits, districts face widely different budget pictures, according to preliminary tax cap data districts provided the State Comptroller in recent days.
While Schenectady, Amsterdam and Albany school districts all reported flat preliminary tax levies, the bulk of the region’s districts are considering tax levy increases that rise above 2 percent but still stay within their local tax caps.
School districts had a base tax cap of 2 percent this year but the final figures are calculated based on local district finances and account for capital debt, payments in lieu of taxes and other local factors.
Statewide 98 percent of districts reported they planned to stay within their tax cap when they put budgets up for public approval in May, with the average proposed levy increases statewide averaging 2.6 percent, shy of the statewide average tax cap of 2.9 percent, according to an analysis of the preliminary data by the state Association of School Business Officials.
With budget negotiations still ongoing in Albany and state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo far apart in their education aid proposals, the business officials association warned districts’ budget outlooks were still tenuous.
“These are tentative numbers and if the state fails to come through with sufficient state aid, you will see a change for the worst in school district budgets, with more districts proposing painful cuts that impact students,” Michael Borges, executive director of the business officials association, said when the group released its analysis Wednesday.
Over half of 37 Capital Region districts are considering lifting their tax levy, the total amount of money collected in local taxes, by a higher percentage this spring than they did last year, with the bulk of proposed increases ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent.
Johnstown School District, which again appears to have one of the most dire budgets in the region, reported a preliminary tax levy increase of over 14 percent. At a recent community forum, Johnstown Superintendent Patricia Kilburn told those in attendance that “things are pretty dire.”
Aside from Johnstown, three area districts reported to the state a preliminary tax levy increase of greater than 4 percent: Broadalbin-Perth, Northville and South Glens Falls school districts. Another nine districts reported preliminary levy increases of between 3 percent and 4 percent.
The preliminary levy numbers are reported early in the budget process, weeks before districts find out how much in state aid they will ultimately receive, but the numbers in recent years have hued closely to where districts ultimately set their levies.
School district budgets will go up for voter approval on May 21.