GCSD is ‘doubly hit by inflation’

— Chart from Feb. 13, 2024 Guilderland School Board meeting

Inflation diverged markedly from the state-set levy limit in 2023 and is still divergent.

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland school district, according to the state-set levy limit, will be allowed to raise $82.5 million in local property taxes next year, an increase of 2.7 percent over this year.

If the district comes up with a budget that requires a higher levy, it would have to be passed by 60 percent of voters rather than by a simple majority vote.

In the decade since the tax cap was adopted, Guilderland has never gone over the levy limit.

At its next meeting, on March 5, the school board will review the superintendent’s draft budget proposal. That will be followed by workshops on March 12 and 26 with the board slated to adopt the final plan on April 16.

Voters will have their say on May 21.

In December, Andrew Van Alstyne, the district’s assistant superintendent for business,  told the board, if it were to keep the same staffing and programs it has this year, next year’s budget would increase 6.1 percent from $120 million to $127 million, leaving a $1.7 million gap. Those calculations were based on the historic full restoration of Foundation Aid promised by Governor Kathy Hochul.

However, Hochul has now proposed changing the formula for Foundation Aid in two ways.

At the school board’s Feb. 13 meeting, Van Alstyne went over Guilderland’s tax-cap projection as well as what the district is expecting in Foundation Aid, based on Hochul’s proposal.

New York has an April 1 deadline for the state budget but the governor and lawmakers have frequently run past that date as they negotiate the final spending plan, leaving schools to conjecture what their state aid might be.

In going over the history of the state’s Foundation Aid, which is meant to account for how much a district can provide locally as well as for needs of students with disabilities, learning English, or living in poverty, Van Alstyne said, “Until this current year, there has been a tremendous gap between what the formula says schools district should get and what the state actually provides.”

The 2023-24 school year is the third year of a phase-in to full Foundation Aid for every district. 

“Guilderland is one of those schools that was historically not fully funded,” said Van Alstyne, displaying a chart that showed over the last decade Guilderland was underfunded by $4 million to $5 million each year — a gap that decreased with the phase-in until Guilderland was fully funded with $24.3 million in Foundation Aid this year.

The first change Hochul has proposed is doing away with “save harmless,” which kept schools receiving the same amount of Foundation Aid even if their enrollment declined

“Some districts have been receiving more aid than the formula has given,” said Van Alstyne.

This change would not affect Guilderland but the second one — changing the way inflation is calculated — would hurt Guilderland.

Before Hochul’s proposed change to the formula, Guilderland was slated to receive 25.6 million in Foundation aid, an increase of $1.3 million over this year, Van Alstyne’s chart showed.

Van Alstyne walked the board through the state’s eight-step formula, as it applies to Guilderland, for calculating the levy limit.

“As inflation spiked,” he said, “the tax cap could not grow with inflation because we are capped at 2 percent. “So last year, inflation was 8 percent and our district specific tax cap was … around 3 percent. This year, inflation was 4.12 percent and our tax cap is 2.71 percent.”

Van Alstyne concluded that a tax cap that wouldn’t “allow us to maintain our levy” in real dollars because of inflation coupled with the governor’s change in calculating inflation for the Foundation Aid formula means Guilderland is “being doubly hit by inflation.”

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