Budget Q&A (Crusader Chat)

Please note: these questions were shared by community members and were answered at the June 4 virtual Crusader Chat. Email any additional questions to [email protected]. Thank you!

Budget Questions

Q: Does the proposed budget meet the district’s legal limit under the tax levy cap law?
A: Yes, the proposed tax levy increase is 1.5% which is below the District’s tax cap for next year at 2.07%. The District is not attempting to exceed the tax cap and therefore only needs a simple majority to pass the budget. If the District was proposing to exceed the tax cap, a super majority would be needed to pass the budget, which is more than 60% of voters casting a ‘yes’ vote.

Q: What is the proposed budget increase covering?
A: The budget increase will provide for maintenance and continuity of all existing District programs and services (at next year’s prices). This includes all teaching and instructional positions, including athletics and extra-curricular programs, transportation for students home to school, after school activity buses and athletic buses. Furthermore, the budget increase will provide funding for our buildings and grounds department that cleans and maintains our schools and facilities. This support service will be especially important next year to ensure the District regularly cleans and sanitizes classrooms and buildings to prevent the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. The budget maintains the District security program, including continuation of the School Resource Officer program. Additional investments may be needed next year in the technology area for a Districtwide learning management system and student devices such as Chromebooks. These investments will enhance the District’s remote learning capabilities and provide continuity of learning should a full or partial school closure be necessary next year.

Q: How will the budget impact my taxes?
A: In general, the impact for the majority of residents should approximate the change in the tax levy at a 1.5% increase. However, due to changes in individual properties, for example, adding an addition or new pool, and overall changes to the Town assessment roll make it difficult to say with certainty. There is also something called an equalization rate which is established annually by NYS Department of tax and Finance hat is used to apportion the tax levy to each of segments of the five towns that make up the District. Changes to equalization rates can also shift taxes between the segments irrespective of the increase to the levy.

The part of the process the District controls is the increase in the tax levy and that increase is 1.5%, which is below the tax cap of 2.07% and below the rate of inflation as measured by the consumer price index used in the tax cap calculation.

Q: Are there any cuts to academic programs?
A: No

Q: Are there any cuts to personnel?
A: There are reductions in a handful of clerical and teaching assistant positions, but these reductions are being made due to attrition and retirements. Requests for additional staffing, such as an additional guidance counselor at the HS, which seemed viable in January have been removed from the budget.

Q: What happens if the budget is defeated?
A: Typically, there are two opportunities for the community to vote on a district school budget, should the first budget be defeated. Usually, the first date is in mid- May and second in mid-June. As it stands now, there is no second vote date established, so there may not be another opportunity to vote on an amended budget. With the lateness of this year’s vote and the need for absentee balloting, a second vote date may not be available to school districts.

In New York State, when a school district budget is defeated on two separate occasions, the school district must adopt a contingent budget. Typically the first vote date is mid-May with the second vote in mid June. Due to statewide school closures and social distancing rules for the 2020-2021 year, the first school budget vote date has been moved to June 9 with no second vote date scheduled. Therefore, school districts may only have one opportunity to vote on the school budget.

In the event voters reject the school district budget, the Board of Education must enact a Contingent Budget. The rules and regulations governing a contingent budget call for prescribed cuts to the budget with the intent that minimum service levels are maintained to:
Operate and maintain school buildings and the educational program; preserve the property of the district; and ensure the health and safety of students and staff.

Required cuts to a contingent budget include, but are not limited to:
Capital construction projects (transfer to capital fund), most equipment, certain student supplies, school bus purchases, new multi-year school bus and building leases, other new multi-year contractual arrangements, rental of office equipment, salary increases for management confidential employees and any civil service employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement with a recognized bargaining unit.

Two other significant requirements of the contingent budget include no increase to the tax levy for the new year and a cap on the administrative portion of the budget. In the case of Monroe-Woodbury C.S.D., no increase in the tax levy would require approximately $1.85 million in additional cuts to budget resulting in staff reductions with potential layoffs resulting in changes and disruptions to the instructional program. Contingent budget cuts could result in larger class sizes, fewer elective classes at the secondary level, cuts to sports and intramurals and reductions in clubs and extracurricular activities for students.

Q: Is it possible to compare the tax impact of going to contingency budget versus proposed budget on a macro scale – just total dollars divided by total taxpayers? The difference in cost may be relatively small and the impact on programs would be large.
A: On a macro level, holding other changes constant, such as how the tax base for one of the five towns that make up the District, has changed relative to the other towns, the proposed budget would increase your taxes by 1.5% while the contingent budget would have no increase. The cuts within the budget and the resulting impact to District programs would be significant, including but limited to large class sizes, fewer elective classes at the secondary level, potential reductions to athletics and extra-curricular programs for students.

Q: How much money was saved in the spring? No fuel for buses, no sports, no air, and heating should have been a minimum. No summer school. Were the drivers furloughed? No school lunches either. How much was saved and why isn’t it accounted for in the budget proposal?
A: Although, there will be savings in the current year due to school closures, the savings may not be as great as one would imagine. The majority of employees, including teachers, are working remotely and continue to be paid. Employees that are classified as substitutes for regular staff, were furloughed. Specifically, substitute bus drivers many of which work regularly were furloughed.

The District continued to provide meals to the community but at smaller volumes. As you rightly point out, there are savings in fuel usage, contract transportation, overtime and consumption of materials and supplies and certain stipends for additional work which wasn’t happening. We are estimating these savings will be approximately $1.9 million and this has enabled us to apply that to next year’s budget to both keep the levy lower than it would have otherwise been at 1.5% and preserve the instructional programs of the District. So these savings are accounted for through the increase in assigned fund balance in the revenue budget and the tax levy increase.

Q: The Contract Transportation budget seems to be increasing. What is the reason? I thought the creation of Palm Tree would alleviate this increase?
A: The Contract Transportation expense is growing but it still represents a small portion of the overall budget (under 1%). Due to the rate of increase the District is looking at this item in great detail and looking for ways to monitor and control the expenditures in this category. Examples include an external transportation consultant, an RFP to pick a fiscally responsible Contractor and enhanced internal control procedures. In addition this category is aidable so 66% is reimbursed by State Aid.

Q: After we’ve taken such a deep economic dive, inflation is almost zero. How can you justify having a tax increase well above that? You keep emphasizing that you’re under the tax cap, as if you’re deflecting from the fact that this should be the year where there is a zero increase.
A: I understand your frustration, approximately 80% of our expenses are related to staff salary and related fringe benefits, such as health insurance. The rates associated with the items, rates of pay and salary increases, employer contributions to State and Teacher retirement systems, payroll tax and health insurance are contractually or statutorily set and generally outside our direct control. So even though inflation may be low many of our expenses are ‘locked in’ for next year. We started with a budget to budget increase of approximately 2.9% and brought it down to 1.5% by reducing expenses we could control while trying to preserve the instructional programs.

BALLOT QUESTIONS

Q: Can the district request an extension for the deadline to return the budget vote ballots?
A: No, these dates are prescribed by law and in the current situation the Governor’s executive order. Although legislation has been proposed to extend the voting deadline to June 16, our understanding is that the governor is not supportive of this measure.

Q: I would have hoped that you wouldn’t have cut it so close to the deadline for mailing the ballots. I understand that it’s out of your hands and that people can drop off ballots. However, those hours do not accommodate people who work during the day. Please consider having at least one drop box opened up past business hours on Monday, so at least there’s an equal opportunity for those that work.
A: We understand and have extended availability for drop off of ballots to the following schedule:

Friday, June 5 & Monday, June 8: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. @ Central Valley, Pine Tree & The Education Center
Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. @ The Education Center
Tuesday, June 9: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. @ Central Valley, Pine Tree & The Education Center

Extenuating circumstances: Call District Clerk at 845-460-6200, ext. 6203.

TAX QUESTIONS

Q: Since schools are closed, are we getting a rebate or will it be applied to the fall bill? Please advise.
A: Although, there will be savings in the current year due to school closures, the savings may not be as great as one would imagine. The majority of employees, including teachers, are working remotely and continue to be paid. We are estimating these savings will be approximately $1.9 million and this has enabled us to apply that to next year’s budget to both keep the levy lower than it would have otherwise been at 1.5% and preserve the instructional programs of the District.

We are not sending taxpayers checks like the federal government but by applying savings from this year to next year’s budget we can keep taxes lower next year. Unlike the federal government we must have a balanced budget in which our spending does not exceed our revenues. The federal government can send checks because they can run a budget deficit with the result being a long term (and a growing) federal debt.

Q: Do our school district leaders recognize that many people have lost their income due to COVID-19? What is the school district doing to address these concerns?
A: The District appreciates the enormous financial strain that the COVID-19 closures have caused to families and businesses in our community. School officials are working tirelessly to ensure the District fulfills its legal obligation to educate our children while protecting the health and safety of the community and limiting an undue financial hardship on our taxpayers.

Q: Are there school tax relief programs due to COVID-19? Are we receiving state aid? What is the Pandemic Adjustment?
A: There are no new COVID19 related school tax relief programs for school districts or taxpayers. In New York State, funding from the federal government to NYS was used to cover a cut in state aid. So the federal government paid for a small portion of ordinary state aid a school district would be entitled to. That federal aid is covering the pandemic Adjustment which was NYS cut to state aid with federal CAREs act funds.S

Q: Are there payment options for people who are not able to pay their school taxes in full?
A: Yes the School District offers an installment program to break the tax payment into three payments over a nine week time period. For details, please see the payment coupons on your school tax bill or call the school tax office at (845) 460-6276.

Q: Will the school tax payment deadline be extended due to COVID-19?
A: Unfortunately.there is insufficient flexibility in the School District’s budget to permit a deferment of its taxes. Simply put, the District requires the budgeted tax revenue to meet its budgeted financial obligations. If the District were to defer the tax payments, it would not be able to educate its students.

Q: Are property values decreasing due to the pandemic? Will my taxes decrease due to this?
A: The District does not assess property values, all property values are provided to the District by each town assessor. School taxes are calculated by taking the assessed value of your property (provided by the town assessor) multiplied by the school tax rate (calculated by the school district).

GENERAL QUESTIONS

Q: Hello. I was just reading on Facebook rumor has it that our taxes are paying for some school staff to have cars just like a company car. The word is that the principal and vice principal have cars from the school district. I would like to know if any school staff have cars from the tax dollars we pay.
A: No, school staff, including principals and assistant principals, has a District car. This rumor is entirely false. No employee takes home a District vehicle or uses a District vehicle for personal use. District vehicles are used for school business only during the normal work day. Occasionally, a District employee may take home a vehicle but this usually for a single night with extenuating circumstances. A common example would be the night before a snow storm when a four-wheel drive SUV will be needed early in the morning (4 am) to assess the condition of the roads to decide about closing school.

Q: A related question regarding spring sports/activities that were cancelled. Were the coaches/advisors paid for those positions?
A: Some were paid and others were not. It depended on the number of practices/tryouts etc. that had occurred informally throughout the year. In the case of those that were paid, practices and tryouts had already started and coaching commitment is in many cases a year round job.

Q: How many meals have been distributed since March? How does this compare to the free lunch/breakfast that the district distributed before COVID-19?
A: To date, we have distributed 36,056 meals since March 17th, which is about 600 meals per day, 3000 meals a week. That figure is approximately 1/3 of the free and reduced price meals that we would serve when students are at school or about 1/6 of the total meals typically served.

Q: Will the fields/athletic facilities be available to the public?
A: We are just as excited as you are about having the upgraded facilities available to the public and have started to open with the tennis courts. Additional facilities will be made available as the governor loosens social distancing mandates.

Q: Under 2020 Supervision Regular School on the budget form there is a line 2020 – 160-01-3200 non instructional salary $437,607. And the next one under that is also a non instructional salary $429,746. Who receives this salary? What positions are they? How many people are the salaries covering?
A: These budget codes provide for clerical salaries at the High School and Middle School. The code 2020-160-01-3200 Non Instructional Salary $437,607 is a High School code that covers ten clerical positions at the High School. The other budget code, 2020-160-02-3200 Non Instructional, covers approximately ten clerical positions at the Middle School. These positions cover the main office and other administrative functions such as the attendance office. The District has also added new budget codes for each school to provide more detailed expenditure information. This would manifest itself as a large increase in a new code but a corresponding decrease in another budget code.