SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs City School District’s proposed budget is $118.4 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year, following a vote from the Board of Education at a meeting on Tuesday, April 12. This makes for a budget to budget increase of 1.1 percent, with the tax levy going up .79 percent. As voting on the budget will take place May 17, taxpayers are not only curious what this budget proposal means for their wallet, but also how it will benefit the district, and its students, as a whole.
When it comes to the impact on taxpayers, Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of Saratoga Springs City School District, shed some light on the subject.
“We won’t be able to get firm numbers until assessments come in this summer,” Piccirillo said, “But right now, we’re estimating that a home that is valued at $315,000 will see an average tax increase of $32. That might be a bit higher or lower depending on where you live in the community, but generally it comes within dollars of that number.”
One thing is for certain: the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars are not going to waste. There are a multitude of improvements and additions to the district this budget will fund, all of which end up benefiting students directly and measurably.
“In the fall, we take proposals from the building level, from teachers and principals, and look at the things we need to prioritize,” explained Piccirillo. “Proposals that are in line with our vision and help move our goals forward are prioritized.”
There are two different tiers of budget proposals, with the district’s top priorities in Tier 1. Tier 1 includes continuing the much-successful Parent University, expanding Project Lead the Way, which develops STEM curriculum and expanding Project Lift, an after-school prevention program. The most costly proposal on Tier 1 is the addition of five special education teachers at the elementary level.
“As with most school districts, we have more students coming in with greater need,” said Piccirillo about the addition of the special education teachers. “Our feeling was that we needed to layer in some support there. We know that if we can assist students and get them on track earlier, then they’re going to be more successful later on.”
Piccirillo also noted that Tier 1 includes the continued funding of the district’s mental health clinic it runs with Parsons Child and Family Center. Last year, the clinic was paid for with a grant, but to ensure stable funding, it was placed on the budget for this year.
“With grants, you don’t know year to year what funding is going to be, and we didn’t want to jeopardize the potential to have that sort of support program,” added Piccirillo. “Meeting the needs of students and their families is critically important.”
Tier 2 of the budget proposal includes adding social workers for the high school and elementary school, modified sports, hiring a new social studies teacher, ELA teacher and science teacher at the high school, and hiring more teaching assistants.
The budget, including Tier 1 and 2, features over 15 new instructor positions total.
“I don’t project we will be putting forward new proposals for programming and staffing anywhere near what we’re doing this year,” said Piccirillo. “This is a big deal because we know we can afford to do it and this is probably our one shot.”
What makes this year so monumental – and not only for Saratoga Springs, but for all New York schools – is that it is the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) was first enacted in the 2010-11 fiscal year by former Governor Paterson to help close New York's budget deficit resulting from the Great Recession. Based on a formula, the GEA took a portion of New York’s revenue shortfall and divides it among all school districts in the state, reducing each district’s total state aid.
Since the GEA was imposed five years ago, Saratoga Springs City School District has lost over $25 million in state aid they could have received. However, this year, they’re getting $2 million of that money back.
“We didn’t get everything we could’ve gotten over the years, but we’ll move forward and plan in this new environment,” explained Piccirillo.
What comes next, before residents vote on May 17, is the release of a budget newsletter that goes out to all taxpayers in the community. This newsletter explains the budget in full, including tax rates, revenue and expenditures. Furthermore, a fast facts sheet is presented to all parent organizations, such as the PTA and PTSO, and Piccirillo goes to every faculty meeting and presents that same information to faculty.
There will be one more budget hearing on May 10, where the entire budget will be gone over again. After that, the district waits for the voting results on May 17.
“Last year, we had an over 80% support for our budget. The community has been incredibly supportive and we are so grateful for that,” said Piccirillo. “We’re always trying to get our students to that next level. We’re always looking to be better. We’ll never stop that notion of continuous improvement.”
For more information about the Saratoga Springs City School District’s budget proposal, as well as voting information, visit saratogaschools.org.