Q. When is the 2013-14 school budget vote? Who can vote?
The public vote on the 2013-14 school budget and Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 between noon and 9 p.m. To vote in this election, you must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the Watervliet City School District for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Voter registration is required. Learn more about voter eligibility
Q. What are the details of the proposed budget, and what else is on the May 21 ballot?
District residents will vote on a proposed $23,502,000 budget for the 2013-14 school year. The proposed plan would increase spending by 1.58 percent, or $365,821, over the current school year and carries a projected tax increase that does not exceed the district’s tax levy limit for 2013-14. Consequently, it will require a simple majority vote (50 percent plus one vote) for approval.
Voters will also elect one candidate to an open seat on the Board of Education.
Q. Is Watervliet City School District receiving an increase in state aid for 2013-14, and if so, how much?
Watervliet expects to receive $388,697 more in state aid overall, or a 3 percent increase next year. From the outset of the budget development process, district officials were faced with a projected budget gap of $1.9 million as the result of prolonged reductions in state aid coupled with the rising costs of education. The 3 percent increase in state aid was not nearly enough to close a gap of that size. As a result, officials have proposed a budget that despite significant cuts, maintains much of the district’s academic program.
Q. Why has there been such a large budget gap to close in recent years?
Several years of decreasing state aid coupled with rising costs—including steep increases in employer contributions to health insurance and pension plans—and the tax levy limit introduced last year have made it increasingly difficult for Watervliet to balance decreased revenues with increased costs associated with education.
Q. Does the district’s proposed budget meet the requirements of the state’s tax levy ‘cap’?
Yes, it does. It's important to understand that the “2 percent tax levy cap” law, now in its second year, does not restrict any proposed tax levy increase to 2 percent—or any other amount—nor does it prohibit an individual’s property taxes from increasing by more than 2 percent. What it actually does is requires each school district to calculate its own tax levy limit to determine what level of voter support is necessary for budget approval.
The “2 percent” (or the rate of inflation, if less) merely refers to one of eight variables used in a multi-step formula used to calculate each district’s individual tax levy limit as prescribed by state law.
Under the state’s tax cap formula, Watervliet City School District has a tax levy limit plus exclusions of $6,475,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, an increase of 6.1 percent. This is the maximum allowable levy the district can present to pass its budget with a simple majority of voters (50 percent plus one).
The maximum allowable tax levy is the tax levy limit PLUS certain exclusions; in Watervliet’s case, increases in state-mandated contribution rates for employee pension systems that exceed two percentage points in a given year. These exclusions may be added to the tax levy limit without triggering the need for 60 percent voter approval. That is why Watervliet’s projected tax levy increase at 6.1 percent is still within the property “tax cap” limit according to the law. Watch this short video for a better of the property tax levy cap
Q. Why is the proposed tax levy increase higher than the proposed budget increase?
The budget proposal that will go before voters on May 21 represents an increase in spending of 1.58 percent over the current year and would result in a 6.1 percent tax levy increase for district residents in the coming year. Some may wonder why the tax levy increase does not more closely match the proposed spending increase. In years past, when school districts were operating in better fiscal times, expenses increased at a rate comparable to increases in revenues which helped to keep the two figures in sync. Today, however, Watervliet—like school districts around the state—is experiencing a rise in expenses accompanied by a decrease in revenues. As a result, a greater portion of the cost to cover district expenses shifts to property taxes. For example, Watervliet is facing yet another year of the state's Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which will result in the district receiving $701,536 less in state aid in 2013-14. The only way to absorb that substantial a loss in revenue is by increasing property taxes or reducing expenses, both of which district officials have done during recent budget cycles.
Q. What is a Gap Elimination Adjustment and how is it affecting Watervliet‘s school budget?
School districts around the state are heading into a fourth straight year of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which will result in a loss of more than $700,000 alone next year in funding for WCSD. The GEA was first introduced in 2010 by then-Governor Paterson as a way to help close New York’s budget deficit. Under the legislation, a portion of the funding shortfall at the state level is divided among all school districts throughout the state and reflected as a reduction in school district state aid. Since first introduced, the total GEA reduction in school aid for Watervliet amounts to nearly $4 million. Its impact on the school district’s budget has been significant, resulting in reductions in staffing and services each year—and now to some programs—to help offset the impact of withheld state aid. Watch this short video for a better understanding of the GEA
Q. Is the district using reserve funds to help balance the budget?
Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has repeatedly suggested that school districts use fund balance (sometimes referred to as a “rainy day” fund) to cover losses in state aid. In recent years, Watervliet has spent down its fund balance to help preserve academic programs and keep tax levy increases to a minimum.
Q. What happens if the budget is defeated?
Under New York State law, if a school budget is defeated, the Board of Education can either put the budget up for another vote, put a revised budget proposal before voters, or move directly to a contingent budget. Should the Board decide to present the budget, revised or not, for another vote and it is defeated a second time, the Board must adopt a contingent budget.
Q. What would a “contingency budget” look like?
As in the past, certain existing contingent budget requirements remain in effect that prohibit spending in specific areas including community use of buildings, certain salary increases and new equipment purchases. However, unlike in the past, under New York's new property tax levy cap law, if the district adopts a contingent budget it cannot increase the current tax levy by any amount—meaning a zero percent tax levy increase. In other words, WCSD would have to levy the same amount of taxes as in the current year or less—without any adjustments for state pension rate increases, contractual obligations or any other costs, mandated or not. For 2013-14, it is anticipated that a contingent budget would require the district to make an additional $276,771 in reductions beyond what has already been proposed in the areas of staffing, programs, and opportunities for students.
Q. What is the difference between tax levy, tax rate and tax bill?
If Watervliet’s proposed budget is approved by voters, next year’s tax levy would increase by 6.1 percent or approximately $371,000 more than the levy collected during the current year. The tax levy represents the total amount of money the school district collects from local property owners to fund its budget. It is calculated after taking into account all other revenues coming to the district, including state aid.
The tax rate is the amount to be charged for every $1,000 of assessed property value. It is calculated by dividing the tax levy into the total assessed value of the school district, which is determined by the city assessor. Based on the most recent assessment information, the projected tax levy would result in an increase of $79 on a city property assessed at $100,000.
The tax bill – or the final amount each property owner pays – can vary depending on individual assessments and the city’s final tax rate, which is finalized in August. Tax bills are sent out in September after this process has concluded.
The school district has no control over assessment practices — and does not collect more in taxes than the amount it levies. While the tax levy is increasing by 6.1 percent, individual property owners may experience a change in their tax bill that is greater or less than that percentage. When this happens, it is the result of the individual’s assessment and/or the impact of exemptions on the total tax bill.
Q. How will the STAR program affect my school taxes?
Many New Yorkers who own their own home can reduce their school taxes through a School Tax Relief (STAR) exemption. Two different types of exemptions are available: Basic STAR and an enhanced exemption for senior citizens. Exemption amounts for the 2013-14 school year vary by municipality. For more details, including application and eligibility information, contact your town assessor or visit the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance website.
Q. Does the community really have a say in the budget? Isn’t everything is mandated?
District residents can have a “say” in the school budget every year by sharing their input at school board meetings and budget workshops, voting on the budget, and electing school board members. State and federal mandates, such as Race to the Top (RTTT), have a significant impact on the cost of education and must be factored into the budget. Voters can have a “say” on those mandates by contacting their local representatives to discuss mandate relief. Voters can also contact their elected officials to share their opinions on the cuts in education aid. The more officials hear from their constituents, the better. Contact information for elected officials
Q. How is the 2013-14 budget changing to respond to the current economic climate?
The downturn in the national economy, coupled with a state school funding system in crisis and the property tax levy law, challenges public schools to provide a quality education for all students with significantly fewer resources. District officials and school leaders have sought input from staff and community members during the past several months to find creative ways to weather the economic storm without sacrificing the integrity of the educational program. To preserve programs in the face of declining resources, administrators at both buildings reviewed their current program needs and made recommendations for reductions that would least impact classroom instruction and academic program.
Q. How many teaching positions will be eliminated?
A total of four teachers (two through
retirements) and three teaching assistants (two through retirements)
are slated for elimination at the end of this year. Two support
staff positions (one hall monitor and one clerical worker) will also
not be filled. A half-time reduction in administrative duties will
also be made.
Six of those nine reductions involve staff who are retiring and will not be replaced.
Q. How will AP and honors courses be affected?
Although the high school will no longer offer AP courses, it will continue to provide College in the High School courses through Hudson Valley Community College and Schenectady County, which offer students the opportunity to study at the college-level and earn college credits. Other honors-level classes (English and math) are also maintained in next year’s budget, as is the Grade 8 Nanotechnology course. Watervliet will also be able to offer Virtual Advanced Placement classes to qualified students through a consortium grant it received in partnership with six other area school districts and the Capital Region BOCES.
Q. How will this budget affect the classroom experience? Will class sizes increase?
The district does not expect class sizes to increase at the elementary level, and any increase in core class sizes at the junior and senior high level will be minimal.
Q. Will there be fewer resources available for teachers?
Due to budget constraints, the district has had to limit professional development opportunties such as off-site workshops and conferences for educators in recent years. With support from literacy and math coaches from the Capital Region BOCES and building leaders, the district continues to offer weekly in-house professional development to improve instructional practices and strategies as teachers continue integrating the state’s new Common Core Learning Standards into the curriculum. To allow literacy and math coaching for teachers in both buildings to continue next year, the district plans to reallocate funding from the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Grant it was awarded by the state in 2012.
Q. Will art and music programs be affected?
Watervliet schools will continue to offer art and music programs to students. If state aid continues to decrease or remain flat, district officials may have little choice but to begin reducing or eliminating non-mandated programs in the coming years, such as music and art.
Q. How will sports be affected?
The three sports that were placed on hiatus during the current school year (tennis, cheerleading and bowling) will not be restored next year. In addition, further reductions in athletic teams will be achieved through the consolidation of modified and junior varsity teams according to participation and/or enrollment.
Q. Will there be any cuts to extracurricular activities?
After-school clubs and extracurricular opportunities across the board will be eliminated, which will then make the need for after-school (late) bus runs obsolete.
Q. How will pre-K or Kindergarten be affected?
Kindergarten and Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) programs are maintained in next year’s school budget. Watervliet’s UPK program is a collaboration between the school district and Albany Community Action Partnership, with funding provided through a New York state grant.
Q. Will this budget affect at-risk students? Will extra help (tutoring, Response to Intervention or Academic Intervention Services) be reduced or eliminated?
Watervliet schools will continue to offer Academic Intervention Services (AIS) and Response to Intervention (RTI) to students who have been identified as at-risk during the regular school day. Many of the district’s teachers stay after school to offer additional academic support for students who need it, however, the district is unable to sustain any formalized after-school “homework help” program as exists presently.
Q. How many school guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists are supported through this budget?
The district currently has one school pyschologist, two social workers, and four guidance counselors (one each at the elementary and junior high school level and two for grades 9-12). The city school district partners with the Watervliet Police Department to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO) who works on site in the schools three days a week.
Q. Will there be any changes to how your district provides transportation to regular education and special education students?
Two bus runs were eliminated at the start of the current school year, as the district is now providing bus transportation only to students who reside a half mile or more from the city’s schools. Without extracurricular clubs, the district will no longer need late afternoon bus runs, and travel for athletic scrimmages may be limited to a specific distance.
Q. Why are certain cuts included in the budget but not others?
Many educational programs and services are mandated by law, and as such must be provided. New York’s special education mandates, for example, far exceed federal requirements for student services and are a significant cost-driver for schools. Despite Governor Cuomo’s promise to deliver mandate relief, the state and federal governments continue to heap additional mandates on schools and municipalties. The new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) or teacher evaluation system is another more recent mandate that schools must now adhere to or risk losing state aid. Kindergarten, on the other hand, is not mandated.
When developing the school budget each year, district officials cannot cut mandated programs to reduce costs but instead must look to non-mandated items when making reductions.
Q. Why do salaries and benefits comprise so much of the budget?
Education is a people business. It takes people to teach, transport, feed, coach and care for the 1,400 children in the Watervliet’s two school buildings every day. It also takes people to clean the buildings, maintain the playing fields, order supplies, schedule courses, make organizational decisions, collect data and perform evaluations. Watervliet has approximately 200 employees, including many part-timers. Approximately 73 percent of the district’s budget goes toward their salaries and benefits each year.
As in other New York school districts,
most Watervliet employees are union members, and their terms of
employment are articulated in contracts, negotiated agreements
between the Board of Education and the unions. These contracts are
legally binding documents. Under state law, neither side can change
the terms of these contracts without negotiations.
Since New York school districts do not have the legal authority to reduce contracted pay rates of employees unilaterally, in the current financial crisis, districts must eliminate staff or find creative ways to reconfigure positions. The proposed budget reduces staffing costs by strategically eliminating and restructuring nine full-time equivalent positions.
Q. How much flexibility does the district have to adjust employee salaries and benefits as part of the budget process?
Watervliet has only the ability to eliminate or reconfigure positions to reduce costs. District officials do not have the ability to unilaterally change the salaries and benefits of staff covered under negotiated agreements. These agreements are legally binding contracts that prescribe terms of employment for staff, including salaries and benefits. In addition, Watervliet, like all public school districts throughout New York, participates in a state-run pension program. The district is required by law to offer all employees an opportunity to join the state pension plan and is required to contribute to the plans at a rate set annually by the state. In addition, the district cannot control all of the factors that increase health care costs, such as hospital charges and physician fees or frequency of care. Last year during contract negotiations, district officials and the teachers’ union agreed to higher employee contributions to health insurance plans, which will result in cost savings in the long run.
Q. What happens when negotiated agreements expire? Can’t the district institute a pay freeze for all employees to help offset declining revenues and increased costs?
No. Under the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law, public employers, including school districts, are prohibited from altering any provision of an expired labor agreement until a new agreement is reached. Consequently, some existing salary and benefit provisions continue at their current rate until a new contract is settled.
Q. Did Watervliet choose to participate in the pension system ‘smoothing option’ proposed?
No. Although, the final state budget included provisions that would allow school districts to save money in the short-term by deferring a portion of their required pension contributions, called a “smoothing option,” the deferred amount would be repaid, with interest, in future years. The Board of Education considered the option, but decided against participating because they believed that this type of “borrowing against the future” could pose a potential future risk for the district and taxpayers.
District officials expect, however, to save $107,000 in Employee Retirement System (ERS) payments by participating in an optional program called the “Employer Contribution Stabilization Program.” The program allows school districts to pay a portion of their annual ERS contribution over a 10-year period at an interest rate (3 percent for fiscal year 2013) determined by the State Comptroller’s Office.
Q. If required contribution rates for the state pension fund are related to the health of the stock market, why are rates continuing to increase even though the stock market has surpassed its original level before the drop in 2008-09?
The required employer contribution rate (ECR) for both the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS) and the Employees' Retirement System (ERS) is determined annually through an actuarial valuation of each fund’s assets and liabilities. The employer contribution rate is further affected by the gains or losses experienced by the fund during the fiscal year. Both TRS and ERS have adopted a five year averaging of investment returns when calculating the ECR with the goal of smoothing out the year-to-year fluctuations in employer contributions to mitigate the impact on school district and local government budgets. Therefore, the full impact of any single year investment gain or loss is never fully realized in the subsequent year's rate determination. For example, the 2013-14 employer contribution rate will not be based on the fund's investment performance for the preceding year, but instead will based on the average of the funds investment performance over the previous five years.
More information the respective retirement systems' financial performance and actuarial calculations can be found in their annual financial reports (2012) using the links provided below:
Q. How many seats are open on the Board of Education, and who is running?
On May 21, district voters will elect one candidate to an open seat on the Board of Education. Sheri Senecal is running unopposed her first term on the Board of Education. Board members serve 3 three-year terms. All are unpaid positions.
Q. Will there be a bus proposition on the ballot?
Not this year. The district leases three buses and contracts with a local school bus service to cover its transportation needs. A five-year bus lease was approved by voters last year and does not expire until 2017, therefore a bus proposition is not needed this year.