Insurance drives benefit costs in Hudson schools budget

HUDSON–Next year’s budget, this year’s computer problems, and a last minute change of a test from computer to paper received attention at the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education meeting March 25.

The meeting began with a 2019-20 budget workshop run by Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon. Budget topics included health insurance price increases, Hudson’s property reassessment, State aid uncertainties, and tax levy possibilities. “My updating of the budget is moving forward” and so is developing communication with the community about it, said Ms. Carbon.

Ms. Carbon recommended planning for a 9% increase in health insurance costs. Some neighboring school districts can expect “solid double digit” percent increases she said, and “health insurance is the driving factor” in designing the HCSD’s 2019-20 budget. Already, it takes up two-thirds of the district’s benefits budget. Ms. Carbon said the budget should “make sure our employees have the best health insurance that we can afford to give.”

The HCSD employee health insurance program gives enrollees the choice of three insurers: Blue Shield, CDPHP or MVP. Ninety percent use Blue Shield, so Blue Shield rates and coverage are of special interest.

Property assessments are also of interest this year, because of the recent reassessment in Hudson. “We don’t control assessments,” and “assessments have nothing to do with the maximum allowable tax levy,” said Ms. Carbon. However, she continued, “We have heard stories about people whose assessments have doubled, tripled and then some.”

“If Hudson’s assessment value goes up a lot as opposed to other places in the district, Hudson will bear the brunt of contribution to the tax levy,” said board member Sage Carter.

Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier said an assessor told her that of the property owners in Hudson whose assessment increased, if the tax levy were the same this year as last year, about a third would pay higher taxes, about a third will pay about the same taxes, and the about a third would pay lower taxes. The last group consists of those on whose property the assessment increased by a smaller percentage than assessments on other properties.

Ms. Carbon cautioned that there is uncertainty about the tax figures because of the possibility that the state budget might not be adopted by the April 1 deadline.

This year, HCSD’s maximum allowalble tax levy increase–often referred to as the “tax cap”– is 2.5%, for a total tax levy of $23,718,685. Dr. Suttmeier asked the board, “Do we go out with the full 2.5%, or do we reduce it to show concern for a community whose assessments have risen dramatically?” She said that lowering the local tax levy increase to 2.4% “is perceived as different perhaps, but it’s not really going to [do] anything significant to anybody’s tax bill.” But with that lower rate the district would have to shave planned expenditures from some or all programs.

“This year we’ve added programs that are really making a difference,” said Ms. Carter.

In addition, the lower rate “would affect us next year,” said Board President Carrie Otty.

For the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, the board increased the tax levy by less than the maximum. “If we had gone to the max in the last two years, we’d have more room to play this year,” said Ms. Carbon. She was referring to the state policy that calculates the tax levy increase in the next school year on the amount of the tax levy in the current year. So the more a district spends this year–up to the tax cap–the more it can spend in the next year.

Dr. Suttmeier concluded, “We’ll go with 2.5 unless the state budget gives us” an unexpected amount of state aid. “We’re not going to ask for what we don’t need.”

On another matter, Dr. Suttmeier announced that the computer slowdowns and crashes the district was experiencing in the past few weeks occurred because “an outside source was deliberately trying to penetrate our system. Our firewall was working very hard” to prevent the unwanted intrusion. But in order to do so, it had to slow down the whole system. Now “we have it under control.”

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement April Prestipino announced that all students would take next week’s standardized ELA tests on paper. Both the state and Questar Inc., which runs the tests, were “very accommodating” to last minute changes from computer to paper, she said.

In other business:

• Ms. Prestipino reported that Questar III BOCES (unrelated to Questar Inc.) will give the HCSD full credit for a social studies specialist it paid for but could not use. The credit can be used toward another service

• Dr. Suttmeier recognized technology teacher Bruce Buhler, who is retiring after 18 years in the HCSD. Mr. Buhler thanked the district for giving him the opportunity and added, “When I came to interview, I was impressed by how orderly the transition between classes was. I had a good feeling”

• The other Board members announced that Lucinda Segar just had a baby.

The next meeting of the HCSD Board of Education will take place Monday, April 8, at the high school library. It will begin with a budget workshop at 6:00 PM followed by the regular meeting at 6:30 p.m.

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