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2024-2025 Proposed Budget Information

 

Click here to watch the 2024-2025 Budget Presentation

 

Click here to read the 2024 Budget Newsletter

 

Proposed 2024-2025 School Budget Meets NYS Tax Cap Criteria and Preserves Long-Term Financial Stability 

The Highland Central School District Board of Education is proposing a $54,388,745 budget for the 2024-2025 school year. The proposal reflects a 3.53 percent increase in the tax levy, and meets the requirements of the New York State (NYS) tax levy limit calculation for a simple-majority voter approval. 

In addition to being asked to consider the budget proposition, voters will also weigh in on a separate request for the purchase of two school buses to replace older buses with high mileage. A third proposition to establish a new Capital Reserve will also be on the ballot, along with the election of three Board of Education members. Current school board members Mike Bakatsias and Ed Meisel, along with newcomer Jenn Becker, are seeking election. 

Eligible voters can participate in the budget vote and school board election on Tuesday, May 21, between 6 AM and 9 PM, at the Highland High School Band Room.

Budget Development: Challenges & Priorities

Each year, the District is tasked with proposing a budget that not only addresses the needs of our students, but also remains fiscally responsible to our taxpayers. The process begins with examining expenses and determining available revenues to pay for those expenses. 

The process of balancing the budget was especially challenging this year because Governor Kathy Hochul’s initial State budget included significant cuts to education funding. When the budget development process began in January, the District was facing a potential budget gap of nearly $1.8 million.

In an attempt to close that gap, our team of administrators and directors engaged in hours of discussions to establish priorities and identify areas for finding possible savings to offset the projected loss of revenues and price increases. 

“We tried to be creative and leave no stone unturned when it came to areas where the budget could be reduced with the least possible impact to student programs and services,” said Superintendent Joel Freer. “Our administrative team and the Board of Education were in unwavering agreement that this was the priority.”

Spending Reductions Related to Decreased Enrollment

One area that was carefully examined was enrollment levels. Throughout NYS, enrollment has been steadily declining. Highland has about 300 fewer students today than it did a decade ago. Part of the budget development process includes a careful analysis of historical course interest and enrollment levels. As a result of this year’s review, projected enrollment in some class offerings are at levels that allow classes to be combined and still have acceptable class sizes.   

“Having fewer students allowed reductions in some areas without eliminating student programs,” said Freer, noting that in schools, programs are directly related to staffing levels, so some cuts to positions were unavoidable. “Despite the need to reduce some positions—which is never an easy decision and one that was not taken lightly—all current services being provided to students will continue, albeit with some minor adjustments to the delivery.”

Before cutting positions that would result in job losses, administrators reviewed current vacancies and pending retirements to determine their impact on student programs and operations. Seven positions were identified that can be eliminated without causing layoffs, including one elementary teacher and one school monitor position through retirements, and four bus driver positions and a custodial position that are currently vacant. 

Non-instructional positions were reviewed and a district data administrator, head custodian, and part-time technology office assistant position were eliminated, with the related position duties to be performed through a reassignment of work or restructuring of processes. 

Two academic intervention services positions that were added during the pandemic and paid for with federal funding (which is no longer available) were eliminated. Three classroom aides and two full-time and a part-time teaching assistant positions were eliminated. An 0.5 adaptive physical education teacher position was also eliminated and duties will be reassigned to existing staff. 

Examining enrollment levels, class sizes, and course interest supported the reduction of one social studies position, one English language arts position, a 0.4 art position, and a 0.8 world language position. Classes with low enrollment can be combined so students’ opportunity to take these courses does not change.  

Additional reductions were made to supply and equipment line items across the District. The Bridge, PBIS, SAIL, and TLC programs will continue to be offered and be supported by Title I grant funds next year.

Revenues and Expenditures

This year’s budget proposal represents a $1,912,265 increase from the current year’s budget. Salaries, benefits, and debt services are the three main factors responsible for this increase.

The recently adopted New York State budget includes an $18,826,832 aid package for Highland, an increase of more than $250,000 from last year. 

“I’d like to thank everyone in the community who reached out to our State legislators to try to persuade them to support our schools,” said Freer. “Although the small increase did little to offset the impact of inflation and rising costs, it was a much better scenario than the tremendous loss of aid that was originally projected.”

Use of Fund Balance and Reserves

To prevent further cuts to the budget, the Board will apply $1,150,000 from the District’s fund balance (unused funds from prior years), which reduces the impact of the budget on the taxpayer. 

After consulting with the District’s financial advisors, the Board also approved the use of $250,000 from the Employee Retirement System (ERS) reserve, which will be used to offset eligible expenses. This allowed the District to save additional positions from elimination, without risking our long-term fiscal stability. 

“Using reserves to balance the budget has a long-term impact and must be approached thoughtfully and strategically,” explained Freer. “The Board carefully weighed these decisions with the advice of our financial experts.”

A Balanced Budget

The budget reductions and the use of fund balance and the ERS reserve helped close the gap between District expenses and available revenues, but it was not enough. As administrators and the Board of Education grappled with how to close the remaining gap, several additional positions were slated for elimination. 

Fortunately, the State finally adopted its budget on April 20 (three weeks late), and some of the District’s aid was restored. This last-minute restoration of State funding and decisions to apply fund balance and ERS reserves allowed us to save the following seven-plus positions from being eliminated: 

1.0 Special Education position - Elementary School
1.0 Technology position - Elementary School
1.0 Technology position - Middle School
0.6 Art position - High School
1.0 Music position - High School
3.0 Teaching Assistants - District-wide

Tax Cap Requirements Met

Under New York State law, a school district must plan its budget around a complex formula that calculates its maximum allowable tax levy increase. 

With a tax levy increase of $1,125,212—or 3.53 percent—Highland’s budget proposal is at that limit, and meets the requirement for a simple majority voter approval of 50 percent plus one. 

What Will the Budget Cost Me?

The tax levy represents the total amount of taxes a school district needs to support the school budget. The estimated tax levy amount for 2024-2025 is $33,039,254. The cost of the tax levy is shared among all taxpayers included in the tax base. Factors such as overall assessed property values, equalization rates, and exemptions are all used to determine actual taxpayer impact.

The following information represents the estimated increase to a homeowner in the Town of Lloyd and is based on the most current information available. Towns typically do not finalize assessment rolls until early July, so these calculations are estimated based on 2023-2024 equalization rates.

Assessed Value in Town of Lloyd

Annual Increase

Monthly Increase

$100K

$68.11

$5.68

$200K

$136.21

$11.35

$300K

$204.32

$17.03

$400K

$272.43

$22.70

What is a Contingency Budget?

If the proposed budget fails to receive approval, the Board of Education has the option of resubmitting the same budget or a revised version to voters, or adopting a contingency budget. If a budget is defeated a second time, then the District is required to adopt a contingency budget.

Under a contingency budget, an additional $962,937 in reductions would be needed. By law, all equipment purchases would be removed from the budget and there would only be essential maintenance performed on the facilities. The District would also be required to eliminate free community use of facilities.

Proposition 2: School Bus Replacement

In order to minimize the cost impact of replacing many vehicles at once, the District strategically proposes annual fleet upgrades to retire aged vehicles on a schedule. This year, the District is requesting voter approval to purchase two school buses.

The new vehicles will replace aged ones with high mileage. The cost of the vehicles is estimated to be $357,360 and will appear as Proposition 2 on the ballot. Reimbursement through NYS Transportation Aid is expected to defray 57.7 percent of the cost, which leaves $193,500 to be financed through local taxes over five years. The average annual impact for Town of Lloyd residents would be $2.97 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Proposition 3: New Capital Reserve

Proposition 3 would authorize the establishment of a Capital Reserve to be funded over 10 years in an amount not to exceed $10 million. This proposed reserve would replace a Capital Reserve that was approved by voters in 2015 and is now nearing the end of its 10-year term. The approval of this proposition would allow the transfer of $1,103,928 in funds from the expiring reserve into the newly established one. No additional funds would be added at this time.

A Capital Reserve is a multi-year financial savings tool created to pay for large expenses associated with major repairs, renovations, and construction projects. Establishing a Capital Reserve does not increase the budget. It is funded with money that may become available at the end of the school year after all expenses have been paid.

Voter approval is needed to establish the account, as well as when the time comes to apply the funds to a proposed project. Using funds from the reserve allows a district to lower bond payments or avoid borrowing altogether, thereby saving interest costs. Funds are specific to capital expenses and cannot be used in other areas of the budget. 

Please Vote

The community is encouraged to participate in the school budget vote and Board of Education election on Tuesday, May 21, between 6 AM and 9 PM, at the High School Band Room.

Absentee ballots and Early Mail ballots are available for eligible voters who are unable to vote in person. Please call (845) 691-1000 for more details.