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May 6, 2022 - 8:15am

Budget process is a teeter totter of balances

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School budgets are like teeter-totters, Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith says.

The old kids’ playground toy — that seated a person on each end and they’d push off when their feet hit the ground — is a balancing act. Likewise, school officials try to have a budget with no one end greatly outweighing the other, he said.

“We’re not just pulling pieces out of thin air,” he said during Thursday’s budget hearing at Batavia High School. “(It’s about) having school programs … and what our taxpayers can afford.”

Teeter totter process …
After board budget sessions and a meeting on April 21, the board adopted a proposed 2022-23 budget of $54.8, which is an increase of $2.7 million from the current year’s budget.

A tax levy of just under $20 million will mean a 1 percent tax increase, which Smith believes is a good deal considering all of the program offerings at BCSD, he said.

During his first few months as superintendent, Smith has heard “over and over” how many opportunities there are, from fishing and skating clubs to academic, athletic and other extracurricular activities, he said.

The district’s focus is mainly on getting kids caught up from prior “learning losses” due to the pandemic’s shutdowns and remote and hybrid education methods, he said. As for the offerings, many of them are not mandated by the State Education Department, including art, laptops, musicals, athletics, smaller class sizes, Community Schools, and even school counselors, he said.

Can anyone imagine school without these amenities, he said.

“These are the pieces we don’t have to have,” he said. “Pieces that really make our school our own school.”

Potential tax rate …
A 1 percent property tax increase would add 19 cents to the current tax rate of $19.23 per $1,000 assessed property value. Comparing apples to apples, the property tax for a home assessed at $100,000 would mean an increase of $19 a year. However, if that same property has been reassessed to $125,000, the yearly property tax would increase by $504.50 ($100,000 X $19.23 versus $125,000 X $19.42).

CLARIFICATION: Because of how tax levies actually determine the tax rate, the tax rate, with increased assessments, could actually go down.  For an explanation, see this story.

The district assessing changing enrollment numbers and the teacher-to-student ratio, he said, to be “conscientious” about the needs and expenses of the district. He emphasized that the district isn’t responsible for setting certain items that can upset taxpayers.

‘We don’t control assessments, we don’t control the tax rate,” he said. “We control the tax levy.”

Taxing entities within the district include the schools, city, library and Genesee County. There is a proposed $100,000 Capital Outlay project included in the budget, which would be reimbursed with about 90 cents for every dollar spent, he said.

What about a ‘no’ …
Smith did not mention, or answer the question from The Batavian previously, about what would happen if district residents should vote this budget down. As Benedict said in response to The Batavian’s question, “I am optimistic that our BCSD proposed budget will pass.”

“However, State Education law provides every school district with options if their budget is rejected,” she said after the meeting. “I am hopeful that this budget passes because it best supports the students of the district.”

The New York State School Boards Association lays out the protocol in case the voters reject a school budget. The school board can prepare and adopt a contingency budget or go to the voters again on June 21, the statewide uniform budget revote day.

If the voters have twice rejected a board-proposed budget for a given fiscal year – either the same budget or a second version – the law prohibits submitting a budget or other expenditure propositions to the voters a third time. The school board must then adopt a contingency budget for the upcoming fiscal year by July 1, NYSSBA states.

Boards may pass multiple resolutions to approve contingency budget appropriations, it states, for specific purposes until the board adopts the overall contingency budget. A contingency budget funds only teachers’ salaries and those items the board determines are “ordinary contingent expenses,” the association states.

Ordinary contingent expenses have been defined under law to include legal obligations; expenditures authorized explicitly by statute; and other items necessary to maintain the educational program, preserve property and ensure the health and safety of the students and staff.

Expenditures that do not constitute "ordinary contingent expenses" include new equipment, public use of school buildings and grounds, except where there is no cost to the district, nonessential maintenance, capital expenditures (except in an emergency) and consultant services to review district operations and make recommendations necessary for the creation of the budget.

The school vote is from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 17 at one of two sites, depending on what side of the city voters reside. For more information, go to: bataviacsd.org

Top photo: 2022 File photo of Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith. Photo by Howard Owens.

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