HUDSON–The Hudson City School District Board of Education has adopted a 2017-18 budget proposal to set before voters next month. At the April 10 meeting board members approved a proposed budget that calls for $46,566,172 in spending and a 2.19% tax levy increase.
If voters approve the proposal May 16, spending would rise $655,801 (1.43%) above the current school year’s $45,910,371. Under this budget, the district would continue all non-mandated programs and hire additional staff, while maintaining mandated programs. This would be possible despite the loss of extra funds the district lost after emerging from a state designated “focus” status as an underperforming district. There is also uncertainty about state funding levels future years.
But a jolt of good news entered budget planning when the state legislature and Governor Cuomo adopted the final state budget over the weekend and the district found that it will receive about $360,000 more in state aid than initially anticipated.
This allowed the district to proposed a larger budget than originally planned. “Usually we have a gap to close,” said Hudson District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier. “This year we didn’t.”
New staff positions include:
• An additional teacher each for 5th and 6th grades
• A additional secondary school art teacher and an additional music teacher. A goal, Dr. Suttmeier said, is “to restore music teachers to the number there were before the 2009 cuts”
• A secondary school math coach
• A full-time associate principal for Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School
• A human resources specialist
• A behavior specialist.
“This is not just about wanting to hire more staff,” Dr. Suttmeier said, “This is about wanting to be greater!” She added that the top priority in designing the budget is the students.
Board member Linda Hopkins asked whether the district is confident it would be able to “maintain the new staff over the years.”
Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon answered that before adding each new position, “We talk about whether we can sustain it over time. Once the state budget passed, it was a game change.”
In looking to replace retirees and fill new positions, Dr. Suttmeier later indicated the first people the district would contact would be those laid off by staff cuts over the past seven years.
To comply with the state tax levy cap the district could have proposed increasing the tax levy by as much as 2.8% over the current year’s level. More than that would require the approval of 60% of those who vote on the budget. But after learning that state aid will be unexpectedly high this year ($22,314,339), district officials decided to limit the tax levy increase to 2.19%.
If the board had chosen to increase the tax levy up to the 2.8% limit, the district could have raised an additional $135,000 in property taxes, assuming voters would approve a larger budget.
Dr. Suttmeier called this $135,000 a “give-back to the community,” and a way to thank voters for approving the recent capital projects and, by implication, what it those changes will enable the district to do, like “selling off” the John L. Edwards Primary School building.
Still, Dr. Suttmeier called reducing the tax levy increase amount “a difficult decision.” With tax increase restrictions defined by percents, the higher the levy is each year, the higher it can be in future years. “Where we leave off this year is where we start next year,” she said.
The superintendent said that one consideration in designing the budget was “to build a foundation for future budgets. We don’t know what next year will bring. There have been years when we’ve been dangerously close to cutting non-mandatory programs.” Those programs include elective courses for all grades, AP courses, all-day kindergarten and the Alternate Transition Program at Warren Street Academy.
She said that though this year’s budget funds those programs, “we can’t take them for granted.” In tight times, “they are the first to go.”
In the end, Dr.Suttmeier said she concluded that “it felt disingenuous getting $360,000 more than expected and going with the full 2.8% tax increase.”
One challenge and opportunity the district will face, Dr. Suttmeier announced, is that Questar III BOCES will no longer rent a wing of the High School after next year. Questar, which provides vocational, special education and administrative support to local districts, has been there 10 years and now wants “to develop other programs in other places,” she said. The district will have to decide how to use the space.
Also at the April 10 meeting:
• Tyler Dellavechia, a Hudson High senior and basketball player, received a certificate recognizing that he had qualified as a Section II Class B Boys Basketball Scholar Athlete in the Patroon Conference. It is the first time since 1995 that a student athlete has achieved this distinction
• Dr. Suttmeier reported that “We’re seeing more mental health issues coming into our schools. They’re identified before entering kindergarten”
• Primary School Principal Steven Spicer offered his services in helping to diversify the staff. Board member Sage Carter said, “Diversity in hiring is very important. Especially considering our student body.”
The next Hudson school board meeting will be on a Tuesday not a Monday; it will be April 25 at 7 p.m. at the High School library.