From bad to worse, two districts see hard times ahead

HUDSON – “Cloudy today, storms tomorrow,” was Superintendent Jack Howe’s gloomy prediction of for the next school district budget and the effect it will have on taxpayers. Last year at this time the superintendent warned that this year would be worse since state and federal aid would be used up. His prediction has come true.

Mr. Howe spoke at the February 14 school board meeting, and while no one knows whether Governor Cuomo’s 2% property tax cap will become law, that too will constrain school budgets because the limit on spending would come in addition to a proposed $1.5 million cut in school aid from the state compared to last year.

The Taconic Hills School District, and its Craryville campus, a smaller district than Hudson, would fare better under the governor’s executive budget proposal, seeing a cut of $430,000.

The Hudson district’s costs have risen $1,770,000 since last year due to contractual obligations, social security, utilities and state mandated programs. The combination of rising costs and lost aid mean its total budget is expected to rise by over $3 million to $40,702,878.

Taconic Hills’ costs went up by $3,199,733 or 9.8 %, but the school’s aid package, a much smaller portion of the school’s total budget than Hudson’s. The several different budget scenarios it is considering involve keeping the budget steady at $32 million, with tax levy increases ranging  from 2%, if the Governor’s cap clicks in, to 5.89%, which would require cuts ranging from $2.3 million to $1.4 million.

The district has refrained from speculating about personnel cuts, which they will almost certainly have to consider. The Taconic Hills district lost 20 positions last year.

Hudson is looking at a tax levy increase of between 3.9 % and 14.9 % depending on how many jobs the board cuts. A tax levy increase of 3.9 % translates would mean the loss of 71 teaching jobs, while an increase of 14% would require 32 jobs cuts. But neither increase would be possible under the proposed property tax cap. Of the 200 teaching positions in the district, 50 are mandated special education slots. The 71 or 32 jobs would include the 10 teachers rehired last fall with $600,000 provided by the federal Jobs Restoration Act. Before the jobs bill, the district had to cut 49 positions to balance its budget. The cuts will hit the rest of the school’s classes and are expected to be distributed through every grade and department.

The governor has recommended that school districts dip into reserve funds during this tough period, and Hudson has already included $400,000 from its reserves in its tentative budget. But that leaves the district with around $100,000 remaining in reserve.

Last year both school districts asked their teachers unions to consider either a pay freeze or higher healthcare contributions by individuals. Neither bargaining unit responded to the ideas, which might have saved some of their colleagues’ positions. The most junior faculty and staff were culled from schools last year.

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