The Baldwin Education Assembly’s Budget Advisory Committee last week recommended that the school board seek to pierce New York State’s tax levy cap in
preparing its budget for 2013-14.
“In order to maintain the educational program without significant cuts, which the Baldwin community has consistently indicated it desires, the BEA Budget Advisory Committee believes this will require piercing the tax levy cap,” a concluding statement from the group read. The BAC’s presentation explaining its reasoning was given at a Board of Education meeting held Dec. 12 at Baldwin’s Lenox School.
Joel Press and Joel Peskoff, along with Carl Williams and Garry Nelson presented the group’s ideas, but explained they were based on extensive conversations involving the entire BAC.
New York State’s property tax cap, enacted in June of 2011, limits the degree to which school districts can raise property taxes in their areas. The tax cap in 2011-12 was set at 2.39 percent. The estimated cap for 2012-13 is anticipated to be around 3.14. The BAC’s
recommendation to “pierce” the cap means going over 3.14 percent (or whatever the actual number turns out to be,) and would require the district to convince a 60 percent “super majority” of residents who vote to approve the budget proposal.
3.14: pi in the sky?
According to the BAC’s considerations, a 3.14 percent increase in the tax levy would leave the Baldwin School District severely strapped. The approved 2012-13 budget was $119.4 million. The district estimates that a rollover of this same plan will cost $124 million in 2013-14. The reason for the inflation, they explained, is a combination of the rising costs of teacher and employee retirements and health insurance (expenses the district cannot control), along with state aid allotments that have declined every year since 2009. The BAC and the district both estimate available funds for 2013-14 will fall about $6 million short of rollover.
The BAC feels that the cuts required to bridge a $6 million gap would be so painful the community will approve piercing the tax cap. They cited, among other cuts, reductions in kindergarten, arts, music, sports and activities, administration, secondary schedules, an increase in class sizes and the alteration or elimination of the gifted and talented program. They also suggested busing cuts might be in store, but clarified that any changes to transportation would require
separate public approval.
Piercing, but how deeply?
The BAC presented several visions of an over-the-cap budget, and quantified how expensive each would be to the average Baldwin home valued at $340,326. A tax increase of 3.14 percent, they said, would cost the average home $258 and would leave the schools $6 million short. An increase of 5 percent, or $410 to a homeowner, would cut the deficit to $4.4 million. (See chart for further projections.) The BAC did not advocate for any particular version of the plan, but seemed cautiously optimistic about the chances for success in the middle range.
Board debates budget
The night after the BAC made its recommendations, the board of education met with administration in the District Office on Hastings Street. At this Budget Work Session, which drew few members of the public, they took a line-by-line look at ways to save money. Among the cuts discussed were kindergarten services, arts and music, athletics, clubs and field trips at all levels, security streamlining, the gifted and talented program, sports/intramural night and more. They also hashed out proposals to increase class sizes and decrease the length of the middle school day. The board also looked at potential revenue sources and a long-term, four-year financial outlook.
Among the thorniest topics discussed was the reduction in transportation services. Busing cuts require public approval; and while the board sees an avenue to savings by reducing busing, they also expressed reservations about seeking public approval for both a transportation cut and a tax increase in the same year. No conclusion on how to present the bus cuts and the tax increase as part of the same package was reached.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. in the Plaza School. The next Budget Work Session will be Feb. 6, 2013 at 8 p.m. in the District Office. A community input meeting, during which residents are invited to contribute their ideas for the board’s consideration, will be held Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. at Baldwin Middle School.