Voters in the Schoharie CSD on Tuesday approved a $26.8 million budget for the 2023-24 school year.
The fiscal plan, which was approved by a vote of 278 to 112, has an overall increase of 3.57 percent – $924,158 – from the current year. The tax levy will change by 0.23 percent and equates to $19,826 being spread out among all taxable parcels in the district. The tax levy is the overall amount raised throughout the entire district.
A 6.31 percent increase in New York State school aid over what was budgeted for in the current year will help allow the district to enhance student academic services and support, while limiting the overall local tax burden. State aid accounts for about 75 cents of every dollar spent by Schoharie CSD.
Voters also selected two members of the Schoharie CSD Board of Education. Incumbents Laraine Gell and John Florussen received 247 and 269 votes respectively and will retain their seats. Challenger Amber McDermott-Dickson received 157 votes.
Voters also approved a school bus purchase proposition by a vote of278 to 111 and a proposition to support the Schoharie Free Library by a vote of 278 to 114.
A proposition to create a Capital Reserve Fund passed 276 to 110.
The proposed budget for 2023-24 includes funding for science kits and learning materials at the Elementary; math and business learning materials and textbooks at the Jr./Sr. High School; replacing desks at the Jr./Sr. High School; and science equipment at the Jr./Sr. High School.
A Focus on Reading
An elementary librarian and reading teacher are part of the spending plan, and reading will be in focus for the 2023-24 school year.
“We have to actively teach kids the importance of reading. Next year, this really has to be the push,” Superintendent David M. Blanchard said.
At around third grade, students switch from learning to read to reading to learn; and if they haven’t picked up solid foundations in reading, it begins to show by fourth or fifth grade, he added.
“Reading teaches reasoning and encourages students to have analytical minds,” Blanchard said. “The pandemic did play a role in learning loss, but children as a whole are not reading enough. Reading is a skill and you have to practice. We have to get more books in front of more children and demonstrate the benefits of nightly reading – just 20 minutes a day will make a difference.”
In terms of other costs, the district is projecting a $350,000 increase in contractual employee salaries. There is also an anticipated $217,000 increase in employee health insurance and prescription drug costs. A $121,000 increase in BOCES services is reflected in the plan.
Additional special education costs over the current year are tied to increased needs for students, particularly in the middle school grades, according to Blanchard. Two new special education positions are included in the proposed budget.
“The district is in a good place now and will be in a better place next year under this proposed budget. Our student enrollment is stable after a pandemic dip, and we are anticipating to be back at pre-pandemic staffing levels,” Blanchard said. “We’ve been building back programs aggressively.”
Inflation and Energy Costs
Schoharie CSD developed this budget in a financial landscape where the Consumer Price Index was at 8 percent. It accounts for high energy and other materials and services costs that are expected to continue into the next school year.
Tax Levy Limit
The tax levy limit, while sometimes referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” is set through a state-mandated formula and can be higher or lower than 2 percent based on the individual circumstances of each district.
This year, Schoharie CSD’s state-mandated levy limit is 0.23 percent. The Board of Education chose to present a budget that meets this tax levy limit. For nine of the last 10 years, the district has kept the tax levy change under 2 percent. State aid and operational efficiencies that are under constant review will allow Schoharie CSD to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of our students while keeping the tax levy change under a half of a percentage point.
Because the district is proposing a budget that meets the tax levy limit, only a simple majority of voters – 50 percent plus one – was needed for it to pass. The budget will go into effect on July 1, 2023.