Hudson District still in dark over state aid

HUDSON–School District Business Executive Robert Yusko introduced a work-in-progress outline of the proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year at the Board of Education meeting Monday, March 23. Of chief concern was the lack of information about how much money the district will receive in the new state budget. As a result, the preliminary proposal assumes state school aid will remain the same.

The state budget is supposed to be adopted before April 1. District residents will vote on the annual school district budget May 19.

Mr. Yusko’s preliminary numbers show a $2.9 million shortfall for the 2015-16 year, with expenses of $47.5 against $44.6 million in revenue. Compared with 2014-15, expenses would increase 4.2%, while revenue would drop 3.6%.

But those projections are subject to revision because, as schools Superintendent Maria Suttmeier told the meeting, “We’ve been working with blindfolds on,” not knowing approximately how much the state will spend on education this year. By this point in the year school districts usually have state estimates of the proposed amount of aid each district can expect to receive. In recent years, state aid has accounted for 46-47% of the Hudson District’s revenues.

The superintendent and Mr. Yusko are creating the next school year’s budget assuming state aid will equal the $21 million allocated for the current year.

In addition to state aid, school district revenue sources include property taxes levied by the district, utility bill taxes and miscellaneous sources. The projected drop in total revenue comes from a projected drop of 48.6%, or about a million dollars, in the miscellaneous category. In recent years miscellaneous sources have accounted for about 5% of total revenues. Among the current revenue sources not expected in 2015-16 are debt service transfers and a grant from the Galvan Foundation. A bill in the state legislature giving aid to the state’s 57 small city school districts would yield an additional $68,000 next school year, but current budget plans do not count on that money.

School taxes in the budget outline would increase the allowable maximum of 1.96% under the state tax levy tax cap.

Among the costs contributing to the overall 4.2% increase in expenses are salaries, which would increase 4.9%, and employee benefits 8.6%. Most health insurance rates have increased over 10%, said Mr. Yusko, and with health insurance, he said, “We don’t see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Mr. Yusko said the district is constrained by the tax cap law, the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), State aid stagnation, and the increasing cost of employee benefits. The GEA (originally called the Deficit Reduction Assessment), reduces state school aid to districts in an effort to be consistent with the income of district residents. Since it was imposed in the 2009-10 school year, through the 2013-14 year, it caused the Hudson City School District to lose an average of $2 million a year.

“We want to keep our Destination Graduation goals, and we don’t want any cuts,” said Ms. Suttmeier. “We want to keep our class sizes down to no more than 25 students, our kindergarten class sizes to fewer than 25 students. Do we have a wish list? Yes. But we aren’t planning for it. Last year we were adding positions. This year it’s status quo.” The district will be required to hire more English as a second language teachers.

Also at the meeting:

  • Ms. Suttmeier announced that the Bridge Alternate Transition Program (ATP) now has 26 Hudson students: 20 who joined when it opened last year, and six who joined this semester. The ATP takes 16 and 17-year-olds who lag at least four credits behind the number of credits expected of someone their age on the road to graduation. The ATP at Hudson’s Bridge Academy (at the corner of Warren and 4th Streets) takes students from both Hudson and Catskill High School. Of the 20 Hudson students who joined last year, Ms. Suttmeier announced, 13 are on track for graduation. “We’ve seen a remarkable drop in our dropout rate,” said Ms. Suttmeier
  • Student Representative Atia Begh announced that several High School baseball players had gotten their heads shaved in support of cancer victims
  • The Community Schools Grant is looking to hire three full-time parent coordinators
  • The board adopted a district policy on Audio-Visual and Media Use. All six board members present at the meeting voted for it. The policy responds to concerns among parents about video programs for students in school and at recess time
  • Mr. Yusko said a special election after the May budget referendum will probably be necessary for voters to approve the sale of the Claverack School. He said the buyers will probably not be ready to finalize the deal in time for it to get on the May ballot.

The next Hudson City School Board meeting will take place April 13 at the Junior High Library, beginning with a curriculum workshop at 6:00 pm, followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

 

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