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The two percent tax cap lived up to its name this year, with area schools increasing their spending by 1.46% on average.

The actual limit on how much a school can increase its spending is calculated by a complex formula and varies from district to district but, on the whole, schools stayed nearly half a percentage point below their allowable cap, excluding the Ticonderoga and Putnam school districts, which were outliers.

School voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, May 21 to vote on budgets, propositions and school board members. 

Most districts focused on maintaining existing programs while trying to keep costs to taxpayers relatively flat. Fifteen of the 30 districts in The Post-Star’s coverage area were below the tax cap and 13 were right at the capped amount.

New York State School Board Association Director of Communications David Albert said the upstate figures were a good reflection of what is happening across the state.

“Big picture, it sounds like your region is mirroring statewide trends,” Albert said. “Increase in state aid as well as a decrease in pension payments allowed districts to keep the budgets modest and in the cap while maintaining or maybe expanding their programs.”

The average increase to overall spending was 2.39% and 378 school districts across the state were below their tax caps this year, with 279 at their caps and only 18 above, according to Albert.

He said the main drivers for the relatively small increases this year tended to be contractual obligations and health insurance.

Elsewhere in the state, districts that added personnel tended to go for teachers for students with disabilities and English as a Second Language teachers.

Two districts above the cap

Two districts in The Post-Star’s coverage area went above their tax caps this year, requiring a supermajority of 60% to pass. Ticonderoga and Putnam will look to avoid Fort Edward’s fate last year and pass budgets that will increase the tax levy by nearly 10% and 18.5% respectively.

Ticonderoga officials said many cuts have already been made since 2009 to try to keep pace with the district’s enrollment decline, including cuts to teaching and administrative positions and sports programs.

Ticonderoga Superintendent John McDonald said health care costs and insufficient state aid are responsible for the increases. The increase in premiums for next school year is expected to be 15%. Ticonderoga’s demographics — high poverty in the year-round population, coupled with expensive Lake George real estate, has created a hole in state aid, McDonald said.

If the proposed budget fails, the district will try again at the full tax cap amount, which will reduce the budget by about $600,000.

Putnam Superintendent Matthew Boucher said the district’s proposal is largely affected by a mandated contribution to an approved BOCES capital project. The district is required to pay around $74,000, which is the majority of its overall increase.

The large increase to the tax levy is a correction from the 12% decrease passed two years ago, when state auditors reprimanded the school for having more than half of its total budget in its fund balance, Boucher said.

This year’s large increase is needed to fill the hole left by the drop, he said. The district projects it will be in a deficit by 2021 even it goes well above the tax cap.

Mental health priority

Last year, many districts increased spending on security to update equipment and bring school resource officers into their districts. This year, districts focused less on hard security and more on cultivating student support services and addressing new social emotional learning standards from the state.

Some districts found ways to use existing space in a new way, such as Lake George, where a wellness space is being set up to help students struggling academically or emotionally.

Other districts have opted to bring in personnel to meet the needs of students. Glens Falls created a new middle school principal position, Johnsburg is adding a part-time counselor and Corinth added a social worker.

Capital projects

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Granville, Long Lake, North Warren and Newcomb Central School districts have capital projects on the ballot this year, with Granville’s proposal being the largest in scope and price.

Granville’s proposition is for $15.9 million, mostly for repairs and renovations to existing facilities. The project includes roof repairs, expansion of the athletic track to eight lanes from six, a permanent greenhouse and expansion of agricultural learning space and renovation of the high school cafeteria.

The North Warren proposal is asking for the approval of $551,000 to be taken from reserve funds to convert parking lot and bus garage lighting to LED as well as installing a handicap accessible pathway to the baseball field and additional safety netting.

Newcomb’s project is for $2.7 million with the majority going to repairs and around 35% being used for security and safety upgrades. Newcomb Superintendent Skip Hults said the repairs will include redoing the parking lot, replacing old windows and fixing water leaks in the basement.

Safety expenditures will include construction of a 400-square-foot addition to the back of the building where someone will be present at the door as well as replacement of many of the glass-door exits on the building.

Long Lake’s project will update infrastructure and security around its campus to the tune of $3.5 million. Fixes include repairing the parking lot, reconstructing tennis courts into multi-purpose courts and installing fencing along property drop-offs.

Downsizing

School districts across the state are coping with declining enrollments. Lake George, Schuylerville, North Warren and others decreased instructional staff through attrition and Hudson Falls Central School District has included a proposition to sell its district office on the ballot this year.

Hudson Falls officials said the building needs numerous repairs, including a new roof and HVAC system. The building is not eligible for state aid to help with repair costs because it does not host any students or classes.

Washington County has already agreed to terms with the district to buy the building should the proposition pass. County officials said they need office and storage space.

Few contested races

Only one-third of the 30 districts in The Post-Star’s region will have contested school board races this year, with Greenwich Central School District having no one filed to run at all.

The race with the most obvious implications is in Warrensburg, where incumbent Elaine Cowin will look to hold off challenger Darren Duell.

Residents of Warrensburg have voiced support for the hiring of school resource officers at several recent board meetings, but the last two attempts to pass the measure have failed, with Cowin voting no on both occasions.

At the most recent meeting, Cowin and Duell had the chance to address district residents. Duell said if he were elected he would vote in favor of the measure, which would swing the balance for bringing officers into the district.

Lake George has a well-contested race with five candidates running for three at-large seats and the abrupt elimination of an assistant principal position last year still on residents’ minds. Two of the five running, Melissa Seale and Maryanne MacKenzie, are affiliated with the Lake George United group, which formed last year after the position was cut.

The lone incumbent seeking reelection in the district, Courtney Richichi, argued consistency was key at a recent candidate meet and greet. Several in attendance commented that former board member of more than 25 years Linda King’s experience was a plus.

Polling places will be open Tuesday and times vary by district.

2019-20 school budgets

The following are 2019-20 budgets for schools in The Post-Star's coverage area.

Two school districts, Ticonderoga and Putnam, will ask voters to break the tax cap when they go to the polls on Tuesday. 

District 2019-20 budget Increase 2019-20 tax levy Tax levy increase in dollars Tax levy increase percent and cap K-12 enrollment
Abraham Wing $4.899 million $119,212 $2.945 million ($30,445) -1.02% (at cap) 157
Argyle $13.364 million $615,486 $4.766 million ($64,000) -1.33% (under -1.32 cap) 489
Bolton $9.593 million $169,870 $7.699 million $147,000 1.94% (under 2.7% cap) 200
Cambridge $22.204 million $569,778 $8.916 million $161,000 1.92% (at cap) 862
Corinth $22.767 million $920,800 $9.550 million $350,000 3.8% (under 4.1% cap) 1,166
Fort Ann $11.714 million $540,000 $5.088 million $88,000 2.35% (at cap) 500
Fort Edward $11.760 million $360,000 $3.008 million $8,342 0.28% (at cap) 486
Glens Falls $44.554 million $244,162 $21.593 million $538,002 2.56% (at cap) 2,019
Granville $26.682 million $772,000 $7.076 million $0 0% (under 1.22% cap) 1,023
Greenwich $21.976 million $313,000 $11.257 million $342,000 3.14% (at cap) 969
Hadley-Luzerne $21.347 million ($137,000) $11.069 million $98,730 0.9% (at cap) 674
Hartford $12.701 million $307,041 $3.605 million $44,502 1.25% (at cap) 414
Hudson Falls $44.720 million $406,985 $12.466 million $232,000 1.9% (under 4.36% cap) 2,249
Indian Lake $6.706 million $257,989 $5.084 million $111,989 2.25% (under 2.27% cap) 118
Johnsburg $11.144 million $262,166 $5.973 million $169,764 2.93% (at cap) 350
Lake George $23.815 million $465,479 $19.911 million $371,271 1.9% (under 2.33% cap) 772
Long Lake $4.186 million $117,768 $2.918 million $69,000 2.42% (under 2.45% cap) 60
Minerva $5.572 million $133,404 $3.600 million $908 0.02% (at cap) 97
Newcomb $6.431 million ($338,853) $4.399 million ($229,499) -4.96% (below -4.72% cap) 83
North Warren $13.581 million $163,840 $9.141 million $86,840 0.96% (below 2.18% cap) 502
Putnam $2.588 million $86,943 $1.877 million $261,160 18.41% (over 2.44% cap) 33
Queensbury $65.394 million $2.084 million $35.200 million $1.010 million 2.96% (at cap) 3,275
Salem $13.898 million $570,000 $5.124 million $98,000 1.95% (under 2.69% cap) 545
Saratoga Springs $129.448 million $3.468 million $86.358 million $2.530 million 3.02% (under 3.08% cap) 6,345
Schroon Lake $8.326 million $318,000 $6.492 million $135,000 2.13% (at cap) 265
Schuylerville $36.234 million $693,000 $17.575 million $256,000 1.48% (at cap) 1,529
South Glens Falls $58.451 million $1.805 million $31.076 million $1.192 million 3.99% (below 4.69% cap) 3,072
Ticonderoga $22.906 million $489,000 $12.769 million $1.115 million 9.57%, (above 4.6% cap) 733
Warrensburg $20.549 million $1.015 million $7.776 million $134,000 1.75% (below 3.61% cap) 721
Whitehall $16.894 million $375,000 $5.575 million $28,340 0.51% (below 3.31% cap) 748

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Samuel Northrop is the education reporter for The Post-Star. He can be reached at snorthrop@poststar.com.

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