Dear RCS School Community Member,
As the May 15 school budget vote and school board election approaches, emotions in our community are running high. Rumors abound, and conversation is not always rooted in fact. It is time to redirect the debate to this essential question: How do we best provide the quality of education our children deserve at a price our community can afford?
There is no easy answer to that challenge. But determining what is right for this community does not rest with me, nor with the Board of Education. That right belongs to the voters. As you seek to make your choice, please allow me this opportunity to outline the facts of the 2012-13 budget development process and the final budget proposal for RCS.
When the development of the 2012-13 budget began, the Board of Education was faced with the challenge of closing a $3 million budget gap, due to the loss of more than $1.2 million in revenue from the termination of a 20-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Selkirk Cogen natural gas plant and continued declines in state and federal aid, compounded by rising contractual and operational costs. Simply rolling over all current expenses for the 2011-12 school year at 2012-13 costs would have required a 9.8 percent tax levy increase.
The district can compensate for this loss of revenue and close the budget gap in three ways: by making budget reductions, allocating money from the fund balance or increasing the tax levy. The critical challenge for the Board of Education lies in identifying the balance between budget cuts and levy increase that is right for the RCS community.
In seeking that balance, the Board has proposed a budget which reduces spending from the current school year and implements all three strategies for closing the budget gap, including $1.6 million in budget reductions, the allocation of $750,000 from our fund balance and a tax levy increase of 6.8 percent, or $1.56 million dollars.
The state formula used to determine each school district’s maximum allowable tax levy limit under New York’s new property tax levy “cap” allows for certain exclusions, including the loss of PILOT revenue. Due to the termination of the Cogen payment, RCS is permitted to raise the overall tax levy this year by up to 8.6 percent without requiring more than a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) to pass. However, in an effort to reduce the burden on taxpayers, the board has proposed a budget that decreases overall spending by 1.7 percent and raises the tax levy less than the state limit allows.
Many taxpayers have asked what the 6.8 percent tax levy increase in the proposed budget would mean for their individual tax bills. At this time, we can only provide estimated tax rates, as town assessments and state-established equalization rates, which are necessary to calculate the tax rate increase in each of the four towns within our district, are not finalized until August. Each town’s tax rate will differ based on its assessed property value and equalization rate. Our best estimates at this time indicate an annual tax bill increase of $42-$70 in New Baltimore, $90-$131 in New Scotland, $198-$234 in Bethlehem and $244-$283 in Coyemans—a monthly increase of between $4 and $24 district-wide.
The proposed budget represents the Board of Education’s best effort to balance conflicting priorities and diverse opinions, both on the Board itself and among the constituents its elected members represent. I cannot determine if they have been successful in achieving that balance. That is up to the community to decide. The power of democracy places the choice for education in your hands.
Every resident of this community 18 and older has a voice in the funding and elected leadership of our school district. Whether you’ve been voting for decades or have never cast a ballot, whatever your opinion may be, I urge you to come out on May 15 and voice that opinion with your vote. And, as you weigh your choices, I implore you also to stay informed. Please visit the district website at www.rcscsd.org and read the budget newsletter, where you will find further details about the 2012-13 school year budget and its impact on our school and community.
If the proposed budget is defeated on May 15, the board of education has three choices. They can put the same budget up for a second vote in June, put a revised budget up for vote, or adopt a contingent budget with a zero percent tax levy increase. A contingent budget would require the board to cut a total of more than $3.2 million from the budget, and would result in significant cuts to RCS staff, facilities and educational program.
We will be conducting an anonymous exit survey at the polls, which we will use as a tool to help us better understand voters’ priorities and concerns, and to ensure those priorities and concerns inform budget development in the future. I know emotion and opinion are at a volatile point in our community, and I assure you, we are listening. Your vote and your exit survey will help us to hear you more clearly.
Please come out to express your choice—whatever it may be—at the polls on May 15. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the RCS high school gymnasium. Your vote is your voice. On May 15, use it to speak out about what you believe is best for this community.
Superintendent of Schools