CRARYVILLE—For the second year in a row taxpayers in the Taconic Hills Central School District will see a 0.0% tax levy increase.
District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Neil L. Howard, Jr., told The Columbia Paper by phone this week that the proposed budget for 2015-16, “balances the needs of the children with the needs of the taxpayer.”
District Business Manager Cybil C. Howard, who is the superintendent’s wife, also joined in the conversation, pointing to $779,919 in spending reductions that will result in a significant total budget decrease in the coming year.
Spending will be down by 2.13% from the current $36,585,671 to $35,805,752 next year.
Contributing most significantly to the spending decrease is the settlement of two labor contracts with the two largest units, the faculty and support staff, and reaching consensus regarding health insurance contributions, Dr. Howard said.
The tax levy for next year remains at the current amount, $22,480,000.
As for state aid to the district, the superintendent said it is “going up” in the sense that under the Gap Elimination Adjustment the state will “take away less” or restore $302,353 next year. Describing the system as “a paper chase,” Dr. Howard said on paper, “It looks like an increase in our money.”
Despite the overall spending decrease, the superintendent said the 2015-16 proposed budget will meet the district’s educational needs. “We will still be able to run our distance learning and full pre-k programs,” he said.
A drop in the total elementary student population from 749 to a projected 700 next year will result in changes in staffing, said Dr. Howard.
He noted a “probable decrease in the third grade from five sections to four” because “we don’t have enough kids.” The number of third graders will go from 105 to 83. Likewise, kindergarten will be trimmed from five sections to four as the number of kindergarteners is expected to dwindle from 98 this year to a projected 72 next year.
Every effort will be made to reassign the two teachers previously assigned to those sections being discontinued based on their certifications, the superintendent said.
In addition to weighing in on the proposed budget, voters will elect three members to the Board of Education, one to a five-year term; one to a three-year term and one to a two-year term.
In the running are: Joseph Costa of Claverack, whose current term on the board expires June 30; Jeffrey Hotaling of Craryville, whose two children attend school in the district and Ronald Morales of Hillsdale, who has served on the board in the past. The person who gets the highest number of votes gets the longest term.
Also on the ballot are two propositions. The first is for the creation of a capital reserve fund “to finance the cost of acquisition of school buses and vehicles and the construction of, and general improvements, reconstruction, renovations or additions to the district’s buildings, including site work and the acquisition of original furnishings, computers, equipment, machinery, technology or apparatus required for the purpose for which such buildings are to be used.” The highest amount that could be in the fund is $3 million and the duration of the fund would be 10 years.
Dr. Howard said with the settlement of the two major labor contracts, the district is now in a position to put away money for repairs. He said the buildings opened in 1999 and are now showing signs of wear and tear.
The last proposition asks voters for permission to liquidate old capital reserves authorized by the voters in 1992 and 1998, with remaining amounts of $3,841.24 and $28,414.48. Those amounts would go into the district’s general fund.
The district conducted a public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday night, May 12. No one from the public showed up. “When you have a 0.0% increase for the second year, what is there to complain about? We have made tremendous strides in the efficiency of how we set up our budget using a cost-centered approach,” said Dr. Howard.
The vote on the proposed school budget, candidates and propositions takes place in the Veterans’ Community Room at the school, 73 County Route 11A, Tuesday, May 19 from noon to 9 p.m.
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