Capital Region — Voters will soon be asked to approve over $2.2 billion in combined school district spending for next school year and over $1.1 billion in local taxes to pay for it.
School district budgets for the 2019-2020 school year go up for public approval May 21, with district residents getting a chance to sign off on spending plans that range from deep cuts in Mohonasen and Johnstown to a significant budget expansion in Schenectady.
About two-thirds of the region’s districts are seeking approval to increase their tax levy – the total amount a district collects in local property taxes – by at least 2 percent. Over a dozen are seeking a levy increase of at least 3 percent. But only Johnstown is asking voters to approve an increase over the tax cap, requiring 60 percent approval.
For the second consecutive year, Johnstown finds itself facing a dire budget picture, asking voters to approve a 35-percent increase to the tax levy. District officials have also signaled a plan to lift the tax levy another 15 percent next spring as they look to move toward a tax levy that can sustain the district’s programs. Even with the levy increase and an over 8 percent spending increase – most of which will be devoted to cover capital project costs – the district has planned around $500,000 in spending cuts.
“By spreading out the increase over two years, we can avoid cuts to key non-mandated programs, such as athletics, while easing the transition to a more sustainable tax levy,” Johnstown Superintendent Patrica Kilburn said in a statement released with district budget information.
Johnstown’s tax levy increase pulls the region’s average levy increase to the highest level in over five years. Excluding Johnstown’s increase, three dozen Capital Region districts are seeking an average tax levy increase of nearly 2.3 percent, a slight decrease from last year’s average levy increase of 2.4 percent.
But more districts this year are looking to lift their levies by 3 percent or more; 13 local districts have proposed levy increases of at least 3 percent. And eight local districts are asking voters to max out their tax cap – lifting the levy the most allowed with a simple majority approval.
The largest tax levy increases touch a variety of different districts, from rural Fulton County districts like Broadalbin-Perth and Northville to suburban districts like Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa and North Colonie.
Both Canajoharie and Mohonasen school districts are also asking voters to approve budgets that include cuts to academic programs and student services. Mohonasen’s budget proposal cuts about a dozen teacher positions and 19 positions overall. In Canajoharie schools, a 27-percent increase in healthcare costs forced cuts to some athletic programs, BOCES expenses and the elimination of some unfilled positions.
The region’s tax levy and spending increase proposals mirror statewide numbers, if not slightly lower than other parts of the state, according to an analysis of school district budget proposals by the Association of School Business Officials.
Not all school districts are asking voters for more in local taxes: Schenectady City School District is the only district in the region proposing a tax levy cut, with a planned reduction of 1.4 percent bringing the district levy to its lowest level in a decade.
Schenectady, which received the biggest state aid increase of any district in the region, is also proposing over $4 million in expanded programs and services for students and the addition of nearly 50 new positions.