CARS HOMES JOBS

Amsterdam school budget proposal maintains status quo

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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— The Greater Amsterdam School District’s proposed $63 million 2013-14 budget is pretty straightforward: No programs are being cut, no one is getting laid off and the tax levy isn’t increasing.

Basically, the students will get the same services next year as they did this year, at the same cost to local taxpayers. Holding things steady, though, wasn’t as easy as it might sound. District treasurer Kim Brumley had her hands full.

When she started the budget process early in the year, the district had a $1 million revenue shortfall. Her first budget draft was based upon the current school year. She rolled over all of the program and personnel expenses from 2012-13 with cost adjustments for the new year.

The problem was, with increases in utility costs, transportation, contract-mandated salaries and health insurance premiums, the same programs run as they were this year would have cost a few million dollars more than in 2013-14.

State aid did give the district a boost, $400,000 more than expected, but not enough to fill the gap.

Once more, district administration didn’t want to raise the tax levy. By state law, Brumley could have proposed a nearly 4 percent levy hike without requiring supermajority approval from voters at the polls May 21.

“The administration charged us from the beginning with bringing a zero tax levy increase to voters,” she said, “so we did a line by line search for waste.”

Some of the cuts were as small as $130, but the main savings came from renegotiations on teacher contracts. According to Brumley, teaching staff didn’t take their contract-guaranteed raises this year and agreed to only a 1 percent raise over the coming year. Some teachers even agreed to teach more classes for no extra pay.

Also, staff health insurance was switched to a plan with cheaper premiums and higher co-pays.

“The savings from that move were substantial,” she said.

Eight staff members will retire at the end of the current year, with their positions filled by lower-paid entry-level employees.

The district also negotiated lower utility costs, dragging the budget into balance.

Voters got a chance to speak their minds about the proposed budget at a hearing Tuesday night. While the budget doesn’t raise the tax levy, tax rates in various municipalities within the district will rise and fall by the equalization rate set by the state. Brumley said the few people who showed up were mostly concerned about higher taxes.

Relatively fluid equalization rates will cause property taxes in the town of Florida to go up by nearly 5 percent, which drew some criticism.

“We control the tax levy,” Brumley said, “but not equalization rates.”

She also pointed out that the town of Florida’s property taxes went down by nearly as much in 2012 as they will rise in the coming school year.

The proposed budget is set for a public vote May 21. Also May 21, voters will elect two candidates to the seven-member board of education.

Carol Greco and John Bottisti’s terms are up, and both are running again.

Katherine Hans, Robert Vennett and Laurie Hamblin are also running.

 
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