Extra state aid will help Chatham avoid some cuts

CHATHAM–The Board of Education has adopted a proposed 2013-14 budget of $29,175,016, which will bring a tax levy increase of 3.6%. The budget, which would increase by about $877,000 over the current year, will go before voters May 21.

The board reviewed the final proposal April 9 and voted to adopt the plan and place it on the ballot at its meeting Tuesday, April 16.

The state limit on the district’s tax increases–usually referred to as the “tax cap”–is 4.3%, but board decided not to raise taxes to the limit once members learned the district will receive additional state aid this year. The district had not anticipated receiving the additional funds when officials were planning the budget.

Under the governor’s executive budget released in January, Chatham would have received $6.3 million in state aid, a decrease from last year. But the budget adopted recently by the legislature gives the district $6.5, an increase of over $157,000 from last year.

“We’re extremely grateful for that,” schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said last week.

Before the new state aid numbers came out, the district was looking at having to cut an elementary teacher. The additional state aid means Chatham could not only keep the teaching position, but lower the tax levy increase.

“We took that additional state aid and used it to reduce the tax burden,” said Ms. Nuciforo. “We have established a program here of asking for what we need rather than asking for whatever we can get.”

Business Administrator Michael Chudy presented a few budget adjustments to the final draft, including the loss of a full-time bus mechanic, a part-time teaching position, and replacing the interim Middle School principal with a new hire. Ms. Nuciforo said the budget includes the salary of an Elementary School dean, adding weeks to the Middle School summer school program, and funding an afterschool homework help club for the Elementary School.

The 3.6% tax levy increase means property taxes will account for $20,677,499 of the revenues in the proposed budget. In addition to state aid, Medicaid will bring $80,000. Also, the district will apply $1.3 million from the fund balance and $375,571 from reserves to the revenues expected for the year. Another $157,620 will come from other revenues.

Board member David O’Connor was concerned about the district not asking for the full 4.34% from the community. He said that because of the state’s property tax cap law, whatever the district doesn’t ask for now may reduce the amount the district can ask for in the future.

“By only asking for what we need, we then have a lower baseline for next year,” he said. “I hope the public knows that asking for less than what the state would let us ask for is a meaningful reduction to the tax levy.”

The district may propose a budget that requires a tax levy increase greater than the tax cap allows. But in that case, over 60% of voters must approve the budget. Only a simple majority is required for approval if the budget remains at or below the tax cap figure.

The district has scheduled a series of budget presentations:

Austerlitz Town Hall May 1

Ghent Town Hall May 2

Canaan Town Hall May 6.

The budget hearing is in the Chatham High School Library May 14. All times will be 6:30 p.m.

Also at the April 9 school board meeting:

Ms. Nuciforo said that there have been talks with Columbia-Greene Community College about possibly using the Middle School building to offer college courses if Chatham closes the building for consolidation.

“These are very preliminary conversations, but exciting conversations,” said Ms. Nuciforo.

She said that if the district consolidates, having Columbia-Greene offer college courses at the building would allow Chatham High School students to earn college-level credits and even an associate’s degree while still in High School.

“We’re in a very exploratory stage right now,” she added.

The board recognized student athlete Kayla Doty for being featured on WNYT Channel 13’s “Player of the Week.” Kayla is a member of the National Honor Society and pitcher on the school’s softball team, which won the state championship last year. She earned a full scholarship to attend the University of Connecticut, beginning this fall.

“Kayla Doty is a valued member of our senior class and a true leader in all aspects,” said High School Assistant Principal Amy Potter.

The board watched the video of her on WNYT, and Board President Melony Spock presented Kayla with a certificate of achievement.

The board also recognized the school district’s music teachers for winning a “Best Communities for Music Education” award. Chatham music teacher Samantha McShane said the award is given by the National Association of Music Merchants. Ms. Nuciforo added that only “a couple hundred communities are recognized nationwide.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for April 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the High School Library.

 

 

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