The Valley Central School District has a stated goal of ranking in the top five districts in Orange County among all educational measures, and the district is preparing a 2018-2019 budget that would maintain programs and school staffing while supplementing curriculum and boosting professional development for teachers. During an early budget presentation by Assistant Superintendent Lisa Raymond during a Board of Education meeting on Jan. 22, the district laid out its objectives for the proposed budget, which will ultimately be up for a public vote on May 15.
While the district is still waiting on final state aid numbers, Valley Central has set a goal of crafting a fiscally responsible budget that wrings maximum returns out of local, state and federal aid dollars. The district already knows that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is at two percent for 2018, up from 1.26 percent in 2017, and the district’s tax growth factor for 2018-2019 will come in at 1.0254, an increase of .0172 over last year. As of the beginning of the year, the district has received 14 official letters of retirement from staff members, which adds up to $500,000 in salary savings. The district is projecting increases in health insurance (between eight and 11 percent) and general insurance (three percent) rates. Along with the final state aid figures, the district is also awaiting numbers on its BOCES increase and collective bargaining settlements.
Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state aid proposal, the district would receive $26,214,001 in Foundation Aid next year, a $361,659 increase over 2017-2018. Valley Central would also see a $1,343,090 decrease in Building Aid next year, as the district’s retro debt is being aided for the final time in the current school year. The district is planning on delivering voters a proposed budget that remains within the state-mandated tax cap. “We certainly don’t want to bring a budget back to the board that goes over the cap,” Valley Central Superintendent John Xanthis said. “We firstly have to establish what the cap’s going to be, because the formula is so convoluted it changes for each district every year. So that will be the first thing, and we’ll see what kind of money that generates and if it will cover our expenses. God forbid, it doesn’t cover that, then we could ask to go over the cap or we might have to cut some things. We hope we never get to that discussion.” The district will continue to provide budget updates at its school board meetings in the coming months in advance of the board’s expected adoption of the proposed spending plan in April and the final vote by taxpayers in May.
During last Monday’s meeting, Xanthis provided an update on the district’s efforts to procure funding for a traffic light on Route 17K in front of the Middle School/High School campus. The administration launched a letter writing campaign at the end of 2017 to get momentum in its campaign to get a light installed outside the busy school complex. The push has gained some steam, as Orange County Legislature Chair Steve Brescia invited Xanthis to speak at a Orange County Legislature committee meeting on Jan. 19, and the county officials present at the meeting expressed a desire to get the light funded in the state budget this spring. “I think we’re all hopeful because the budget is being formed right now,” Xanthis said. “The big push with the letters to everyone is the fact that they are building the budget. The letters of support, and we’re meeting with Assemblyman Brian Miller in February, we’re hoping that it will be included in this year’s budget through the Governor or the Department of Transportation.”
The state has already approved the traffic light at the school site, but the funding has yet to come through. If the money can be secured in the April state budget, that wouldn’t preclude the district from offering a potential public referendum on a package of improvements that would improve traffic circulation at a complex that hosts 3,000 people per school day. “That would just be for the light, and we’re pretty sure there’s going to have to be some Route 17K improvements,” Xanthis explained of the state funding. “We’re not sure who will pay for that. I say that to anyone who will listen, we want to push this through. If we have to pay for it initially and then fight about who pays for it afterwards, that’s fine. But the DOT certainly has to be involved in that design. We can’t design 17K. But certainly we’re working with our architects and engineers, and the 17K improvements and the campus improvements we’re trying to coordinate that all together, so that if we do get funding for the light we know then that we’d probably bring a referendum to the public.”
The tentative date for the proposed referendum, which is being developed with the CSArch architectural firm and the Chazen engineering company, would be alongside the budget vote in May, but that timeline is not set in stone. “I’m not quite sure when that would be,” Xanthis said of the referendum. “It’s about timing and what our budget would be and different things. So the first thing is to see what the plan would look like, and I think we’ll have something on that by early March at the latest. Then we’ll decide what the numbers are and if the board wants to do a referendum. Another thing we have to talk about is that if you do a project in the school you can get state aid on it. So we’ll have to decide what else we want to do to enhance the state aid on it.”
By Ted Remsnyder