When lawmakers in Albany reached a deal on the state budget at the end of March, school districts across the state received their final state aid numbers for the 2019-2020 school year. With those figures in tow, the Wallkill Central School District outlined a proposed $42,952,974 spending plan during a special Board of Education meeting on April 3 in the high school library.
The proposed budget would represent a 1.9 percent increase over last year’s approved $75,098,079 plan. The tax levy increase is 2.68 percent increase over last year, and the proposed budget comes in right at the tax cap. The maximum allowable tax levy is $42,952,974. The proposed budget utilizes $1,950,000 in appropriated fund balance and $1,036,000 in appropriated reserves.
The district will receive $29,585,172 in state aid, slightly less than the district had hoped for. “We were expecting a little bit more than what we got,” Wallkill Superintendent Kevin Castle said. “What’s happening right now with the Foundation Aid is that it appears that a high percent of that increase in aid is being allocated to city, high-need school districts. Whereas schools that are right in the middle, like we are among many others, we did not recognize a large increase. It was a 0.75 percent increase from last year. Schools will not be able to continue to provide meaningful programs to kids if the Foundation Aid increase continues to be that low for schools such as us. I do understand why a higher percent of the money is being allocated to city, high-need, but we can’t get hurt at the same time. That’s what it appears to be when I look at the numbers.”
The proposed budget, which is expected to be adopted by the school board during its April 24 meeting, will be up for a public vote on May 21. The spending plan preserves programs for students and continues the district’s arrangement with local police departments to provide officers to all five Wallkill school buildings. “We made a commitment to that and we stuck to that,” Castle said. “We’re very pleased with how the program’s running and we’re looking forward to continuing that partnership with the police agencies.”
Without a sizable boost in state aid, the proposal does not include the addition of new educational programs. “The theme of this budget was to maintain what we have,” Castle said. “Of course within that, we want to enhance what we have. When it’s all said and done, we have to be responsible to kids and to make sure that we’re providing them with the best learning opportunities we can. At the same time, we have to be responsible to the taxpayers, and when you’re not getting an increase in state aid you can’t add programs. So we feel we do have a sound budget in place. The levy is at the cap, and we were able to keep what we had.
So that’s a win for us, the kids and the community.”
As part of the proposed spending plan, the district will maintain low class sizes in grades K-12 and will continue to fund professional development initiatives. Some staff positions will be eliminated through attrition, while a special education teacher will be added at Ostrander Elementary. “We’re basically reallocating funds in the budget,” Castle said. “So we have some retirees, which allows us to make some movement, particularly in special ed. We’re basically shifting a position over to Ostrander to assist with our inclusion program in grades five and six.”
Board of Education President Joseph LoCicero said that despite the small state aid increase, the administration worked diligently to craft the proposed plan. “I’m very satisfied with the budget,” he said. “I think (Assistant Superintendent) Brian Devincenzi and Kevin did an excellent job as always, I can’t reiterate that enough. The state aid numbers came in about where we expected them to be. They’re a little short. But we estimate, so we have a little bit of movement back and forth. I wish the numbers were higher. I wish the governor would have given us a little bit more money. Unfortunately that’s the way the ball bounces and we’ll make due. The kids are going to have a great education in the Wallkill school district.”
Castle praised the board for their input into the budget. “A big part of this is that we have a board that’s very supportive,” he said. “It’s a shared vision among the board, the central administration, the building-level administration and the teachers.”
In the run-up to the May budget vote, the district will hold three PTO/PTA budget presentations on April 29 at Leptondale Elementary School, May 6 at Plattekill Elementary School and May 14 at Ostrander Elementary School at 7 p.m. each evening. The Public Budget Hearing will be on May 9 at 7 p.m. in the High School Library. “If anyone has questions about the budget, we ask that they come to our budget meetings or by all means, call us,” Castle said. “I think it’s important that if there’s any questions from the community, we want to be able to answer them. We want to make sure people are informed."