Mohonasen residents will go to the polls on Tuesday, May 16, to vote on a proposed $50,940,000 budget for the 2017-18 school year.
The proposed budget carries a tax levy increase of 2.83 percent, which is below the district’s limit of 6.07 percent as initially calculated by the state formula. As a result, a simple majority (50 percent plus 1 vote) is needed for approval on May 16.
Under the proposal, spending would increase $2.6 million, or 5.32 percent. Approximately $1.3 million of the proposed increase – or about half – is due to an increase in debt service payments on the capital project that included construction of the Center for Advanced Technology at Mohonasen and the new transportation facility.
The $1.3 million capital project cost is partially offset by additional state building aid and a transfer of funds from the district’s debt service account, which is money that the district has saved exclusively to pay debt for facilities improvements. The remainder will come from local taxes and makes up about 0.81 percent of the proposed tax levy increase.
This 0.81 percent portion of the tax levy increase is less than the 1 percent per-year increase promised to district residents when the capital project was approved in 2013. Additionally, because the tax levy limit formula accounts for a school district’s capital costs, debt service for the project in the proposed budget does not shift any funding away from instructional programs for students. If the proposed budget is approved by voters, the estimated tax increase on an average Rotterdam home with a $150,000 full value assessment will be approximately $53.
“The board has consistently worked to keep the tax levy increase at or below that state-calculated limit, because board members are cognizant of the burden exceeding it would place on taxpayers,” said Superintendent Dr. Kathleen A. Spring. “This is despite the fact that, each year, a majority of voters who fill out a budget vote exit survey indicate they are willing to consider overriding the tax levy cap to maintain programs.”
The proposed budget, which preserves all existing student programming and staffing, includes the addition of 13.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, a combination of instructional staff and support staff. Some of the positions address anticipated enrollment increases while others target additional special education needs or restore positions eliminated in previous years. (Learn more: Additional staff positions address projected enrollment increases, students’ needs)
Assistant Superintendent for Business Chris Ruberti said the proposed spending increase also includes a $500,000 hike in health insurance costs – more than double what the district anticipated.
“Mohonasen works as part of the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance Consortium to negotiate the best rate possible for health insurance,” said Ruberti. “However, an unknown expense each year is the cost of prescription drugs, which for 2017-18 represents about $300,000 of the total $500,000 health insurance increase.”
The board also opted to use additional money from its debt service account, reserve accounts and fund balance to keep the tax levy lower. This includes:
- $750,000 from the Employees Retirement System Reserve, a $250,000 increase over current year to offset retirement costs;
- $700,000 from the Debt Service Account, a $500,000 increase over current year to offset the cost of the capital project and keep the financial impact on taxpayers to less than 1 percent of the tax levy increase, as promised;
- $1.15 million from fund balance, a $75,000 increase over the current year to help offset costs of additional staff positions in the proposed budget.
“This strategic move enables the district to keep the tax levy increase lower than it would have been otherwise and also increases the amount of money available to fund instructional programs,” said Ruberti. “It also continues to fulfill the promise made when the capital project was approved in 2013 that there would be less than a 1 percent increase in the tax levy in any given year as a result of the project.”
Ruberti said the district also realizes significant savings through cost containment and cost avoidance.
“When we do RFPs – or requests for proposals – we are able to get better deals for purchased services such as auditors, insurance and trash removal,” said Ruberti. “In addition, whenever possible we have our staff complete projects, which in the long run saves the district money.”
The district continually works to contain costs and find other revenue sources, he said.
“We work with other districts on transportation, specifically for our special education students who travel to out-of-district programs,” said Ruberti. “We also collaborate with other districts to share ideas and find savings, and we will continue to research ways to mitigate rising costs through cooperative bidding as well as by seeking other sources of revenue, such as grants.”
“Our goal is to maintain quality programs while being mindful of the financial impact on taxpayers when it comes to any decision to increase staffing and services,” said Spring.
Spring noted that the district’s per pupil spending, at $16,743, is well below the state average of $22,593 (2015 figures; New York State Department of Education).