Highland restores some positions prior to vote

By Mark Reynolds
Posted 5/15/24

Highland School Administration and the School Board concluded their final budget presentation for the 2024-25 school budget last week. The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year amounts to …

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Highland restores some positions prior to vote


Highland School Administration and the School Board concluded their final budget presentation for the 2024-25 school budget last week. The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year amounts to $54,388,745, indicating a $1,912,265 increment from the current budget. The district attributes this rise primarily to salaries, benefits, and debt service.

Taxpayers are scheduled to cast their votes on the 2024-25 budget on Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The polling station will be set up in the Band Room at the High School, located at 320 Pancake Hollow Rd, Highland. For eligible voters unable to vote in person, absentee ballots and early mail ballots are available. Further details can be obtained by calling 845-691-1000.

According to the district, next year’s budget entails a 3.53% increase in the tax levy but remains compliant with the New York State tax levy limit calculation. A simple majority of 50% plus one from the taxpayers is required for its passage.

Amidst the budget development process, the district grappled with a nearly $1.8 million shortfall due to the Governor’s initial budget, which included significant cuts in educational funding. Consequently, the district worked on establishing priorities and identifying areas for possible savings to offset the projected revenue loss and price increases.

Before the state passed its budget (three weeks behind schedule), the district compiled a list of potential cuts and reductions they might have to implement due to the shortfall:

• 1 District Data Administrator
• 1 District Wide Head Custodian
• 1 Custodian (Vacant)
• 4 Vacant Bus Driver Positions
• Part-Time Technology Office Assistant
• Various programs like Bridge, PBIS, SAIL, TLC - Grant Funding, Supplies & Equipment
• 3 Teaching Assistants
• 2.5 Teaching Assistants Elementary Reductions
• 1 Classroom Teacher (Attrition)
• 1 Special Education Teacher
• 5 APE Teacher
• 1 AIS Math Teacher
• 1 AIS Reading Teacher
• 1 Technology Teacher
• 1 School Monitor (Attrition)
• 1 Teacher’s Aide Secondary Reductions
• 1 Social Studies Teacher
• 1 ELA Teacher
• 1 Technology Teacher
• 0.4 Art Teacher
• 0.5 Music Teacher
• 0.8 World Language French
• 2 Classroom Aides

With New York State restoring Save Harmless in Foundation Aid and the district tapping $250,000 from the Employee Retirement System, the shortfall was reduced to $1.44 million. Consequently, the school district will retain:
• 1 Special Education teacher and 1 Technology teacher, both at the elementary school

• 3 teaching assistants district-wide
• 1 technology teacher at the Middle School
• 0.6 Art teacher and 1 Music teacher at the High School
The cuts and reductions are slated to take effect after July 1st of this year. Superintendent Joel Freer expressed the district’s fiscal challenges, stating that cutting any positions was personally difficult for him and went against his beliefs.
“We tried to be creative and explore all possible avenues to reduce the budget with minimal impact on student programs and services,” he said. “Our administrative team and the Board of Education were resolute in making this our priority.”

Freer added that despite the impending cuts/reductions, all current services provided to students would continue, albeit with minor delivery adjustments.

The district estimated the annual increase that taxpayers will pay in school taxes for the 2024-25 budget:
• On a home assessed at $100,000, taxpayers will pay $68 more annually than what they paid in the 2023-24 budget.
• This increases to $136 on a $200,000 assessment, $204 on a $300,000 assessment, and $272 on homes assessed at $400,000.

Business Administrator Lindsay Eidel presented a slide outlining the consequences if the 2024-25 budget fails to pass. She noted that a second budget vote could be held with the same total. If it fails again, the district would have to adopt a contingency budget, which would entail a reduction of $1,125,212 from the proposed tax levy. Under this scenario, no equipment purchases would be allowed, and additional reductions of $962,937 would need to be identified to lower the budget enough to be funded by the reduced tax levy. Moreover, no non-essential maintenance would be allowed, and community use of school facilities would be subject to operational fees.

On May 21, taxpayers will also vote on two propositions. The first proposition requests voter approval to purchase two propane school buses to replace aging vehicles with high mileage. The estimated cost of the two buses is $357,360, with 57.7% of the cost reimbursed through NYS Transportation Aid. The remaining $193,500 would be financed through local taxes over five years, resulting in an average annual impact of $2.97 per $100,000 of assessed value for Town of Lloyd residents.

The second proposition seeks authorization to establish a Capital Reserve funded over 10 years, not to exceed $10 million. This reserve would replace a previous one approved by voters in 2015, now nearing the end of its 10-year term. The approval of this proposition would enable the transfer of $1,103,928 from the expiring reserve into the newly established one. The administration emphasized that no additional funds are being added, and the proposition solely facilitates the transfer of money already in an account. A Capital Reserve serves as a financial savings tool for large expenses associated with major repairs, renovations, and construction projects, without increasing the budget. It is funded with available money at the end of the school year after all expenses have been paid.

Voters can access a brief video presentation by Superintendent Joel Freer and Business Administrator Lindsay Eidel on the details of the 2024-25 budget on the Highland Central School District’s website.