Current budget outlines 4 percent increase
PINE PLAINS — Despite some ongoing discussion over possible last-minute reductions, the Pine Plains Central School District Board of Education (BOE) is currently looking at passing a budget with about a $1 million increase from the year before and an estimated tax levy percent increase of about 4.5 percent.The official superintendent’s 2011-12 budget proposal, provided at the Wednesday, April 6, BOE meeting, didn’t vary too much from preliminary discussions during the past two months, staying with a budget-to-budget increase hovering just below 4 percent. Superintendent Linda Kaumeyer and other administrators have made several similar presentations during the past few months. As she acknowledged at the April 6 board meeting, the newest version of the budget had “a couple of adjustments that do not affect the bottom line.”This was the district’s first budget presentation since the state passed its budget on March 31. Previously, Pine Plains had been calculating its budget based on Gov. Cuomo’s proposal. His budget proposed cutting $221,509 more in various state aid to Pine Plains than the adopted budget did, Kaumeyer said at the meeting, which gives the district a little more breathing room than previously anticipated. State aid coming to Pine Plains during the 2011-12 year still decreased 3.72 percent from last year, a significant cut, but still only a fraction of the 16.75 percent that was cut the previous year.Out of the currently proposed $27,943,145 budget, more than 75 percent (approximately $21.5 million) is taken up by salaries and benefits. Salaries are anticipated to go up 3.2 percent next year while benefits will rise 6.05 percent. As BOE President Bruce Kimball pointed out, “The biggest increases are the ones we have zero control over.”The 4.61 percent estimated tax levy increase is assuming that the board chooses to offset taxes with $1 million from its appropriated fund balance, as it did last year.As required by law, Kaumeyer also presented the board and public with financial figures for a contingency budget. That budget, which the district would legally have to adopt if district taxpayers vote down the budget twice, is calculated according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This year, that would be a maximum budget-to-budget increase of 2.73 percent, or an estimated tax levy increase of 3.9 percent. Under a contingency budget there are several restrictions that would limit how the board spends its money, including a restriction on any equipment purchases for that year.In addition to the budget, voters will also be asked to vote on several other propositions, including the purchase of five school buses of various size and capacity for a total of $373,000 and permission for the board to create a five-year capital reserve fund to replace a similar fund expiring this year.Also discussed by the board and illustrated by Assistant Superintendent Michael Goldbeck was the impact of a potential 2 percent tax cap bill on school districts. The tax cap, which even if passed wouldn’t take effect until the 2012-13 school year, combined with the loss of Federal Education Jobs Funding ending that same year, could potentially force the board to make cuts of up to $1.2 million in its budget for that first year.Goldbeck pointed out that while one might initially think it would be smart to make more cuts now, to better prepare for a potential tax cap, as he illustrated with a series of calculations, making more reductions this year in preparation for years to come would not lessen the reductions needed after a potential tax cap.“If we cut more this year, it won’t change what we have to cut next year, basically,” Goldbeck said.“If you cut off your foot now, it means you’ll have to cut off your knee,” Kimball pointed out bluntly.At that point the board discussed other areas where several members felt reductions could be made, including several administrative positions (for more information on that discussion, see story on Page A1). At the end of discussions, it was still unresolved whether the majority of the board wanted to make additional cuts to bring the budget-to-budget increase (and tax levy) down; the board was divided and scheduled an additional meeting on Wednesday, April 13, to continue discussing possible options.The board will need to pass a budget for voter approval in May by its meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, or at the very latest at a special meeting that could be scheduled for the following night.