The Wallkill School District has received overwhelming public support for its proposed budgets in recent years, and voters will render their judgment on the district’s $76,524,146 proposed 2019-2020 budget when they head to the polls on May 21. The proposed spending plan includes a 2.68 percent tax levy increase, which is right at the state tax cap. During a public budget hearing on Thursday night at the high school, Wallkill Superintendent Kevin Castle and Assistant Superintendent Brian Devincenzi gave a presentation on this year’s proposed budget.
Since the proposed plan is within the state-mandated tax cap, qualified district homeowners will receive a rebate check from the state. “This is going into the eighth year of the tax cap, and the district is proud to say that this is the eighth year we’ve been at or below the tax cap,” Devincenzi said during the meeting. The rebate program is in its final year unless state legislators make a deal to reauthorize the initiative.
Because the district is within the cap, the proposed budget only needs a simple majority of votes to pass, not the supermajority required if the cap were pierced. Next Tuesday’s Board of Education elections will be uncontested, as Board of Education President Joseph LoCicero and board members Dustin Palen and Leif Spencer are all running unopposed for three-year terms that would run from July 2019 to June 2022.
The proposed spending plan features a 1.9 percent increase over last year’s approved budget, and maintains all district programs, while preserving an average class size of 20 students per class from kindergarten to sixth grade. “For our students, our parents and our teachers, the importance of keeping class sizes low is twofold,” Castle said. “First, it’s positive with the fact that when you have a lower class size number, you’re able to address kids individually, thereby minimizing kids falling through the cracks. The other thing is the social and emotional learning component, where kids would be easily identifiable if things aren’t going well that particular day. Whereas if you had 30, 31 kids in a class, it’s much more difficult to drill down the academic need, but also the social and emotional needs of our kids. So it’s been a longstanding goal of ours to keep those numbers low. The problem is, if our state aid continues to remain flat or receive minimal increases, it’s going to be very challenging to keep those numbers where they’re at. The other positive is that we’ve been able to do it while staying within the tax cap. So not only are we addressing the needs of our kids, we’re also addressing the needs of our taxpayers.”
The budget also includes funding that would maintain the district’s School Resource Officer program that furnishes police officers to all five district schools. During Thursday’s hearing, Castle called the initiative, which is a partnership with local police departments, a game changer. “It’s an added safety measure in our schools, having a police officer present,” he said. “The other thing that’s equally valuable are the relationships that they’re building with kids and parents. Because these police officers are also in our community outside of school. If they’re building relationships within our schools, that just carries over to our community. It’s so important in our society that we have strong, positive relationships with community members and law enforcement. Having them in our buildings assists with getting to that goal.”
The proposed budget includes $29,585,172 in state aid, while utilizing $1,950,000 in fund balance and $1,036,000 in appropriated reserves. If the budget is voted down, the district could present a second proposal to voters or adopt a contingency budget. If a second budget was subsequently rejected by taxpayers a second time, a contingency budget slashing $1,120,895 from the current proposal would have to be adopted.
The budget vote will be held on May 21 from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Wallkill Senior High School, Leptondale Elementary School and Plattekill Elementary School. “I think it’s important that our voters have all the information to allow them to make an informed decision,” Castle said. “We videotaped the budget hearing, so it will be on our website, along with numerous budget documents. So if there’s anyone who has any questions regarding our spending plan, by all means they can reach out to us and we can answer any questions they may have.”