VCSD looks at $24.8M budget for next year

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin

Budget-making music: Edie Schaffer, a ninth-grader at Voorheesville’s high school, serenades attendees of the Feb. 12 board of education meeting with a multilingual rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Schaffer won the first-ever Global Citizen of the Arts award at a Model U.N. conference held at Yale University this past January.

VOORHEESVILLE — The school district here is looking at spending 2.4 percent more next year with an estimated $24,759,000 budget, leaving a gap of over $200,000.

A first draft of the 2018-19 budget was presented to the board of education at its Monday, Feb. 12, meeting.

The plan stays below the tax-levy limit that is determined by an eight-part formula used by the state; for next year the levy limit will be 2.78 percent. This formula is used by every district, and the tax levy varies slightly every year based on the factors plugged into the formula.

The Voorheesville budget comes amid a fight at the state level over education funding. Facing a $4.4 billion budget deficit, Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing a 3-percent, or $769 million, increase in state aid to schools; his budget for 2017-18 represented an overall $1.5 billion increase over the previous year.

Under Cuomo’s plan, Voorheesville would see an increase of 0.8 percent, or $51,000, in state aid.  

The governor’s proposed $769 million increase (he is proposing a total of $26.4 billion in state aid for schools) is only half what most education advocates have predicted school districts would need just to maintain programs and services for next year. The New York State Board of Regents, which sets state education policy, recommended a $1.6 billion increase for the 2018-19 school year.

Voorheesville is expecting revenues of $24,553,000 for next year, the bulk of which will come from a tax levy of $17,575,000; and state aid of $6,296,000. That leaves an expected budget gap of $206,000 for next year.

“In past years, there have been budget shortfalls, but the state has always come through in the end with aid,” said Superintendent Brian Hunt. “That does not look likely this year.”



Hunt did say that the legislature often will increase state aid over what the governor has proposed, but also said that the fiscal climate in New York is not favorable. “Banking on a large increase in state aid is not realistic,” Hunt told the board.  

Later in the meeting, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy confirmed what Hunt had said about the legislature increasing aid.

“This year the governor is proposing a 3-percent increase — less than a billion dollars; everyone else is asking for $2 billion,” Fahy said. “My guess is that we will land somewhere in the middle.”

This is Fahy’s state sixth budget. She pointed out that, for the previous five, the state had started the process with multi-billion-dollar surpluses because of settlements reached with banks over the housing crisis of 2008-09. “This is the first year in my six that we are looking at a deficit,” she said.

No new funds may be spent unless a state is enacted by April 1. Unlike his recent predecessors, Cuomo has met that deadline all but once. The final state aid figures to schools should be known by April 1.

The Voorheesville School Board will continue to discuss the budget at its March meeting, and then at the April 9 meeting, the board will vote whether or not to adopt it. District residents will vote on the budget on May 15, the state-set date. If the budget is defeated, it can be reworked and then be put up for a second vote, and if it fails again, the district could not increase taxes at all. “And that would hurt us,” Hunt said.

The board also voiced its concern to Fahy about the governor’s plan to cap state aid — at 2 percent — for Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, transportation, high cost (which relates to special-needs education), and building construction, beginning in the 2019-20 school year.

“It makes our costs unpredictable,” said Hunt.

“Each of those aids is based on a formula, and it varies from district to district, according to the district’s needs and ability to pay — but we do have some certainty about what the aid will be,” Hunt told The Enterprise in a follow-up interview.

Transportation aid example: In the middle of a school year, a student moves to a residence that the school district’s buses do not currently serve. The district now has to either create a new bus run or alter an existing run, and, under the governor’s new plan, if the aid is capped, the district may not receive aid for that bus run.

As it stands now, the district would get aid from the state for that student in the following school year. With a cap, the district would not be able to get more aid.

So-called expensed-based aid, Hunt said, is often needed for services that the district is required to provide by state or federal laws. The cap would, in effect, act as an unfunded mandate for special education, student transportation, and other required services.

“In the case of these particular categories, they have always been aided according to a formula that is predictable,” Hunt said. “This proposal from the governor would take away that predictability and harm our future budget deliberations.”

For her part, Fahy said that the Assembly would do its best to block the governor’s cap proposal.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Awarded a contract for the removal of the elementary school playground to M.A Schafer Construction of Guilderland to make way for a new playground. Schafer won the contract with a low bid of $15,400, about 22 percent less than the next closest bidder, and 37 percent less than the third lowest bidder;

— Heard an update from Hunt about potential grant opportunities for the district to pay for the paving of the driveway and parking area at the Albany County Department of Public Works garage in Voorheesville, where the district plans to keep its buses rather than building a new bus garage;

— Was presented with the sports budget by Athletic Director Joseph Sapienza. The total of about $261,000 covers coaches’ salaries, transportation of athletes, uniforms, equipment, entry fees, and officials. The single most expensive sport is football; its total cost would be about $29,000. Following that is track, at almost $23,000; then girls’ soccer, at about $21,000; then boys’ basketball, at almost $20,900; and softball, at almost $20,800; and

— Heard from Fahy about the bills she is supporting that deal with the suddenly much higher property tax bills received this year by some Guilderland residents — such as those in the Voorheesville School District — as a result of the new state-set equalization rate.

One of the bills calls for a special, segmented equalization rate for those parts of Guilderland that are not within the Guilderland school district. This bill passed in the Senate last week.

A second provides that, if the equalization rate being calculated by the state for a locality will differ by more than 5 percent than the previous assessment, a notification process would be initiated, informing the governing body of the affected county, city, town, village, and school district. This bill also passed the Senate last week.

Fahy’s third bill requires the equalization rate be set 30 days before the last date set by law for the levying of taxes.

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