The proposed 2018-2019 Valley Central School District budget continues to come into focus, as the district now knows it will have a $61,679,595 tax levy limit for its new spending plan. To stay within the cap, the district can raise the levy 4.26 percent, a $2,518,548 increase over last year’s total. In a presentation during the district Board of Education meeting on Feb. 12, Assistant Superintendent Lisa Raymond detailed the capital and administrative components of the proposed plan in advance of the public budget vote in the spring.
Under the capital portion of the plan, salaries for staff members will increase $97,550 over last year, and the overall component will total $9,167,980. Due mainly to debt service, that figure represents a $1,352,585 decrease over the 2017-2018 capital component. Increases in employee benefits and curriculum development will contribute to the administrative component of the proposed budget arriving at $8,346,085, a $313,924 increase over last year’s plan. At its next board meeting on March 5, the district will unveil the program component of the budget and discuss revenues. Valley Central is on track to present a budget to voters on May 15 that will remain within the cap. “That levy that was presented tonight would be within the majority and we wouldn’t recommend going over the cap for a supermajority,” Xanthis noted.
The district is exploring the possibility of putting a referendum on the ballot in May that would fund the installation of a traffic light on Route 17K in front of the Middle School/High School complex, as well as pay for improvements to the site’s parking lot. Valley Central began preparing a study on the issue last week. In a note to district parents, Xanthis informed the public that the first step in the effort would see a traffic counter worker stationed at the school complex gathering information on the number of vehicles entering and exiting the site. In the coming weeks, workers will also be doing land surveying and subsurface utility location work at the complex. The workers will be easily identifiable, as they will be sporting reflective vests. “We wanted to alert everybody, because people go by there and they see it and they wonder what’s going on,” the superintendent explained. No school activities are expected to be disrupted by the info gathering efforts for the report.
The administration would have to receive school board approval before any referendum package comes up for a taxpayer vote, but the district wants to keep the ball rolling on the project instead of putting it off into the future. “If we don’t do it in May, it’s going to take a while,” Xanthis said. “It has to go up to SED (State Education Department) for their approval, so the sooner we get it done, the sooner we’ll start doing some work. If we push it back, then the question is when do you do it? Some people say do it in the summer, but never do it in September because tax bills go out then. If we wait until November or December, it’s not going to happen in the summer of 2019, it would probably be in 2020.”
Under the current setup at the site, district students cross Route 17K without the benefit of a traffic light to get to the Dollar General market on the other side of the road. The lack of a light also leads to congestion each school day, as the complex is swamped with cars coming and going from the facility. “The situation is getting worse out there,” Xanthis said. “It’s a mess. I think more people are driving their kids to school. I think that’s part of it too. It’s just a different generation. In my three years here I’ve seen the traffic in the morning increase. Even now the middle school traffic, which was never really a problem, now last Friday people were having a hard time getting off 17K because with the people in the driveway there wasn’t enough room to get off the road. So it’s changing, and we really need to address it as quickly as possible. We also have to weigh the fact that if you go out with a levy of four percent, how that will affect your budget and the referendum. But I think that reasonable people, and the people I talk to in the community, are very much in favor of us doing something. People appreciate the fact that we’re doing something about it.”
During last Monday’s board meeting, Valley Central Director of Technology Christopher Mohr presented a review of the district’s Technology Plan. Mohr provided an inventory of the district’s devices, which include 1,600 computers; 2,652 Chromebooks and 250 iPads. The district has a One to One program for seventh- and eighth-grade students to use the Chromebooks, with the long-term goal to expand that program to ninth grade and beyond.
While the district is required by the state to maintain the Technology Plan, the district has to be nimble in updating its strategy to take advantage of fast-moving technology. “The plan is there, but we’re always re-evaluating,” Xanthis said. “When I came here three years ago in the spring, they brought in all of these smart boards to look at and buy, and the technology changed real fast and I think they decided that better than smart boards, there’s new boards. They didn’t buy them just because that was part of their original plan. They decided to hold off and make sure the first phase is to make sure we have access to all of this stuff and then we’ll do the other part. In the interim, we decided last year to get Chromebooks for our kids. So it’s a living document and things are changing, but it’s not necessarily reflected on the plan itself.” Mohr also gave an update on the district’s Smart Schools application, as the technology funding plan, which was first approved by the school board in December 2016, is still in the state’s initial review phase.
By Ted Remsnyder