Local school districts are preparing for another tight budget season this year, with minimal state aid increases projected in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tentative spending plan and a cap of less than 2 percent on tax levy growth.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently announced a 1.26 percent cap on tax levy increases for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The decision marks the fourth consecutive year that schools and municipalities will be tasked with crafting budgets that call for tax levy increases below 2 percent, he said in a press release.
“My audits have shown some school districts will be able to rely on ample rainy day funds to offset the low growth in revenue, but others must examine their budgets to determine where they can limit spending or cut costs in order to stay under the cap,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement.
The state’s tax cap law, which took effect for the 2012-13 fiscal year, requires school districts and municipalities to limit increases in the amount of money they raise through property taxes to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Last year, the state set the tax cap at 0.12 percent.
If a school district decides to pierce the tax cap, its budget must be approved by at least 60 percent of voters.
In some cases, districts are allowed to exceed the mandate without obtaining a supermajority voter approval because some expenses, such as pensions and capital costs, are exempt. School districts are currently calculating what their allowable tax levy limits will be for the upcoming fiscal year.
Last year, the Greenport School District succeeded in passing a $17.9 million budget that pierced the tax cap with an 8.52 percent increase in the tax levy. The allowable levy limit for the 2016-17 fiscal year was 0.77 percent, or $98,320, an amount school officials described as insufficient.
It marked the second time the district presented a spending plan that pierced the cap. Residents also approved a budget above the allowable limit in 2013.
Greenport is just beginning its budget planning process, but there are no early indicators that the district will need to pierce the cap for a third time, assistant superintendent for business Charles Scheid said in an interview Monday.
Both districts continue to save through a shared services program that began about three years ago. Mr. Scheid said that program has grown to include five shared positions: superintendent, assistant superintendent for business, information technology specialist, facilities manager and purchasing agent.
As for state aid, the governor has proposed 1 percent increases for both districts — Greenport will receive an additional $10,755 and Southold will get nearly $11,910 more.
Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent Anne Smith said in an email Tuesday that while school districts are just starting to evaluate how the latest proposed tax cap and state aid figures will affect their budgets, efforts are already underway to advocate for more funding.
Like Greenport and Southold, Dr. Smith’s district is projected to receive a 1 percent increase in state aid, amounting to nearly $16,290.
She and Mattituck-Cutchogue school board members plan to attend Saturday’s annual Longwood Regional Legislative Breakfast, at which educators meet with state elected state officials, Dr. Smith said.
“Equitable funding is the theme of the event and we hope to learn more from our elected officials about the ongoing challenges in our public schools,” she said. “Mattituck-Cutchogue will have more information later in the week about our allowable tax rate increases.”
In recent years, the state Legislature has been successful in securing more state aid by the time the spending plan is adopted. The state budget must be adopted by April 1.