Education budget vote next week

T he Whitehall Board of Education has presented a $13.2 million budget that would increase the tax levy by 1.98 percent.

The proposed spending plan is $257,963, or 1.92 percent less than the 2011-12 budget, but a reduction in revenues and an increase in the cost of employee benefits forced administrators to raise the tax levy by $97,406.

The increase is just below the mandated 2 percent tax cap, which the board pledged to comply with earlier this year.

The district could have raised taxes by 2.6 percent and still complied with the cap after factoring in allowable exclusions such as increases to pensions and construction costs, but officials chose not to use those exclusions this year.

“We faced another difficult year,” Jodi Bradshaw, business manager said. “The 2 percent tax cap compounded the cuts we’ve had the last few years.”

In the last three years, the district has experienced a $3.9 million reduction in state aid, including $1.2 million this year. More than 55 percent of the districts revenues come from state aid.

In response to those reductions, the district has made more than $2.1 million in cuts over the same time period. That included the elimination or restructuring of a number of positions. Seven positions were eliminated and eight were reduced from full-time to part-time.

A physical education teacher, guidance counselor, librarian, foreign language teacher, speech teacher, two secretaries and the elementary principal all saw their hours reduced.

Two part-time teachers, two athletic coaches, an elementary teacher, a special education teacher and a cleaner’s position were all eliminated.

“There were some very tough decisions that were difficult to make,” said Bradshaw.

The cuts saved the district $589,380, but the cost of employee benefits still increased more $59,000, or 1.5 percent.

Instructional costs are by far the largest appropriation, consuming nearly half of the budget.

The district also used $300,000 from its appropriated fund balance, the same amount it used last year, leaving $528,205 for future use.

The total amount of money raised by taxes is expected to be $5,017,718 and officials estimate the tax rate will be $9.74 per $1,000 of assessed value, an increase of 20 cents compared to last year.

Final tax rates are unavailable until August when town equalization rates and assessment figures are finalized by the state.

The board gave the public the opportunity to comment on the budget, but no one in the small crowd, which included a few teachers and two local politicians, spoke.

The public will have an opportunity to vote on the budget from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15, in the large group instructional room at the Whitehall High School.

The vote will include the Board of Education election. Jim Brooks is the only candidate to file a petition for three open positions.

The board expects to make a decision on how to fill the remaining vacancies after the election.

 

In other matters, Superintendent James Watson said the district has received confirmation that the auditorium seating will be delivered and installed the week of June 16 and based on that schedule, will permit graduation to be held in the auditorium.

“I’m confident, that although carpet-less, we will have seating in the auditorium for graduation,” Watson said.

Fifth- and sixth-grade graduations, which are scheduled for Wednesday of that week are likely to be held in the gymnasium.

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