The New Paltz Board of Education met for the third time this month on Wednesday, March 21, to discuss the proposed budget cuts for the year.
“It’s a long thoughtful process,” Vice President of the Board KT Tobin Flusser said. “[The Board] is pretty consensus driven and diplomatically discusses disagreements. We certainly are not one mind…It’s strongly been a goal to have a union for the budget to see the entire board support the budget.”
She said the budget is complicated. A 2 percent tax levy increase for school districts throughout New York state was recently enforced by the Albany legislation. The tax raise impacted costs significantly, affecting teachers’ pensions, property taxes and health care.
“If the tax is 3.4 percent or below, we need 50 percent of the voters to vote positively for the budget to pass,” Tobin Flusser said. “We want to go above that 3.4 to 4.4 percent. It will be taking a chance for 60 percent to vote yes.”
Tobin Flusser said in order to reduce the percentage, schools can expect to see faculty and staff layoffs, increased class sizes and cuts in extracurricular activities. Debates over whether to keep Pre-K, start foreign language at first grade and modify sports to low junior varsity, were also discussed at the meeting last week. She said the Board reached out to the Union for volunteer vouchers to possibly save these types of programs but they have yet to return an answer.
Meanwhile, Tobin Flusser said community members have shown a positive reaction to the proposed tax budget.
“Looking at historical data, eight out of 10 years the community has voted over 60 percent,” Tobin Flusser said.
Steve Greenfield, a local musician, does not share Tobin Flusser’s optimism.
“They’re giving us a choice between a budget that stinks even more,” Greenfield said. “Then they’ll congratulate themselves for having done the job of ‘making the difficult choices’ well because they made a budget that passed, without pausing to ponder whether they just erected insurmountable restraints on next year’s budget that will cascade indefinitely into the future, or more importantly, insurmountable restraints the actual children entering school this year will encounter.”
Resident Brian Cournoyer shared a similar view to Greenfield on the new budget.
“The problem I’m having with the board at the moment is that this budget proposal is based on a fear that the voters would reject a budget that would maintain the current level of programs, and historically, that fear is unfounded,” Cournoyer said. “It is not the Board’s job to try and figure out what people will vote for, or who will vote ‘yes’ and who will vote ‘no’…it’s their job to do what is right to educate the children of this community.”
New Paltz schools lost $2 million in state aid since 2008-09. In the 90s, the state contributed 40 percent toward education, but now it’s at 25 percent.
Tobin Flusser said she would like to see the government contribute more funds to schools across the state which would keep property taxes at a lower rate.
The final budget will be decided by the education board and sent out to community voters on April 11. Tobin Flusser said the committee will go through many meetings and look over the numbers before community members see a new plan.
“I would like to see the state restore funding and commitment to public education,” Tobin Flusser said. “The other alternative would be to take funding off of income tax. It would be more equitable than raising property taxes.”