Recorder News Staff

Greater Amsterdam School District residents will vote next month on a 2017-18 budget totaling approximately $69.5 million, which includes no property levy tax increase.

Greater Amsterdam Board of Education members Wednesday night unanimously approved a spending plan for next school year increasing appropriations by nearly $723,000, or 1.05 percent, and totals $69,511,563. School board members Gavin Murdoch and Peter Pritchard were absent from the meeting.

The district is slated to receive an additional $2.04 million, or 4.73 percent, of state aid next school year to total $45.22 million. School board members used $321,452 from unrestricted fund balance for to hold the property tax levy flat at $20,875,122.

Board of Education President Nellie Bush said next year’s spending plan holds the line on taxes while enhancing efforts to bolster student achievement. Bush said the budget does not include any layoffs.

“Students are the most important resource and we have to provide them with all the necessary skills and materials to help them to achieve and be successful in their life, but still remain fiscally prudent and responsible,” Bush said.

Superintendent of Schools Vicma “Vicky” Ramos said next school year’s budget was crafted with the goal of supporting educational progress being made in classrooms and to be fiscally responsible to taxpayers.

The 2017-18 budget is the first spending plan drafted under Ramos’ leadership, which she said was not a difficult process because the finances were in good order.

“It’s a balanced budget that supports our schools and also supports the needs of our community,” Ramos said. “We really were trying to align everything to our needs and support our needs instructionally. “

The state mandated tax levy limit for GASD next school year allows for up to a 2.35 percent property tax levy increase, which would have yielded almost $492,000 of additional tax revenues.

The estimated tentative tax rate for all municipalities within the school district will increase despite the district’s property tax levy remaining flat.

The estimated tax rate per $1,000 for the City of Amsterdam will increase 30 cents to $27.61, Town of Amsterdam will increase 19 cents to $207.05, Town of Florida will increase 45 cents to $41.41, Town of Mohawk will increase $1.48 to $20.70 and the Town of Perth will increase 37 cents to $33.94.

GASD Business Manager Kim Brumley said the adopted budget focuses on spending down the district’s unrestricted fund balance, which has been the state Comptroller’s Office has directed district officials to reduce over time.

The state Comptroller’s Office report issued in July said the school district’s fund balance and reserves were not properly managed in prior years. This led the district’s unrestricted fund balance to exceed levels permitted by law in the past three school years.

School districts are allowed to maintain an unrestricted fund balance with an amount equal to 4 percent of its operating budget. Excess fund balance can be used to fund one-time expenditures, pay down existing debt, reduce property taxes or transferred to reserve funds.

Another method for drawing down the district’s unrestricted fund balance includes allocating $1,045,000 to a newly created repair reserve account, which the school board approved as part of the budget proposal. This has no impact on property taxes because money is only being used from its fund balance.

The more than $1 million allocated to the repair reserve is much greater than the initial proposal of $350,000, which had been pitched before a full analysis was completed. The funding level was determined through compiling repairs currently needed and what repairs are projected to be needed in five years.

Bush said the repair reserve would allow the district to tackle projected needs across all school buildings, such as patching roofs beyond warranty, electrical and plumbing repairs, and fixing air conditioning systems.

“The repair reserve has already been targeted and earmarked for each of the schools that wouldn’t come under the general budget,” Bush said.

One-time capital improvements or equipment could be funded through the repair reserve, but it could not be repairs occurring annually or more frequently.

Before the school board could use funds from the reserve, a public hearing is required. If there is an emergency repair and a public hearing cannot be held, the board has to replace the funds over a two-year period. Any usage of the funds would not be eligible for state aid reimbursement.

The 2017-18 budget will be the first school year the Alternative Veterans Exemption can be applied. The exemption will only affect city of Amsterdam homeowners for next school year’s budget, but the following year, homeowners within the entire district will be included.

School board members in May approved granting the exemption after more than a year of deliberations. Property tax savings veterans receive through the exemption will be offset by non-veteran property owners within the school district.

Bush said she is hopeful district residents would come out and vote in support of the school budget next month, because the spending plan continues effective programing and enhances learning opportunities for children.

A public hearing will be held on the adopted 2017-18 budget Tuesday, May 2, at 6 p.m., in the media center at Amsterdam High School.

GASD residents will vote on the budget Tuesday, May 16, from noon to 9 p.m., at their designated polling locations. Voters will also elect three Board of Education candidates for the seats currently held by Nellie Bush, Kent McHeard and Peter Pritchard.

Anyone interested in submitting a school board candidate petition should call 824-5604 weekdays between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to receive a candidate packet. The deadline for candidate petitions is April 26.