Tax hike not required in Roslyn school budget

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Joseph Dragone, the Roslyn school district’s assistant superintendent for business.

The Roslyn school district could leave property taxes flat in its 2017-18 budget, but some school board members don’t think that’s the wisest move.

The district’s $107.8 million proposed budget would increase spending about 2 percent from the current year, but would not require a tax hike to fund all current programs and some new ones, Joseph Dragone, the assistant superintendent for business and administration, said at last Thursday’s school board meeting.

The district is allowed a 1.21-percent increase in property tax revenue under the state’s tax cap law, creating some flexibility to add items to the budget or restore programs that had been cut, Dragone said.

“We don’t need to increase taxes by a single penny in order to provide all the things that have been described to you and increase the budget by 1.99 percent,” Dragone said.

But it’s a double-edged sword, Dragone said — declining to raise property taxes at all could constrict future spending growth by giving the district a smaller baseline for allowed increases in future years.

School board Trustees Adam Haber and David Dubner said it would be in the public’s best interests to keep taxes flat, especially because the district is expected to have a $5 million surplus in the current budget year.

But other board members, including President Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy, said that could limit the district’s resources in future years.

Its surpluses have slimmed in recent years and have always partly come from unexpected revenue, Ben-Levy said.

“I don’t want to say, ‘0 percent [increase], how great we are,’ when we’re killing our kids three years from now,” Trustee Steven Litvack said.

Among the district’s options is using $100,000 less from a reserve fund for workers compensation expenses and replacing it with additional property tax revenue, resulting in a 0.11-percent tax levy increase, Dragone said.

The board must decide which path to take by April 6, when it will vote to adopt a budget.

The proposed budget would add two full-time teachers and several part-time teachers, mostly due to higher enrollment in one of the district’s elementary schools, administrators said Thursday.

Enrollment overall is expected to decline next year, from 1,320 to 1,319 in Roslyn’s three elementary schools and from 1,816 to 1,778 in its middle and high school.

The Heights School for pre-kindergarten through first grade is expected to have 53 more kindergartners next year, pushing administrators to increase the number of kindergarten classes to 10 from 9, Karina Baez, the assistant superintendent for elementary education, said.

That would give each class 23 students, more than the district’s maximum recommended class size of 22 students. Clifford Saffron, the school board vice president, said that would be “completely unacceptable.”

“This is not what Roslyn’s about,” he said.

Administrators will continue to track enrollment numbers and put contingency funds in the budget for three extra teachers instead of two, Dragone said.

The school board also voted last Thursday to ask for approval to create a $25 million capital reserve fund for various infrastructure improvements across the district’s five schools and to put the first $3 million in that fund.

Residents will vote on the proposition alongside the district’s adopted budget on May 16.

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