When The ‘Levy’ Breaks

SALAMANCA – School districts throughout New York state are seeing funding cuts and taxes going up by as much as the tax cap will allow. One Cattaraugus County district is seeing the opposite, predicting a near-30 percent drop in tax levy requirement – even as they add to the district.

Karen S. Magara, Salamanca business manager, said that once all is said and done, district taxpayers are going to see a decrease in the tax levy to the tune of 29.17 percent. The levy in the current school year brought in $3,427,897. For the 2014-15 school year, the levy is anticipated to be $2,427,897, a decrease of $1 million, or 29.17 percent, on the projected $27,119,041 spending plan.

“This is an unprecedented move,” said Robert J. Breidenstein, district superintendent. “I have been with many districts, and never have I seen one do what we are doing in cutting the tax levy and increasing staff and curriculum.”

The decrease is a result from the awarding of $1 million in the Federal Impact Aid Grant, as well as use of funds in district reserve accounts, Breidenstein said. The cut comes after back-to-back years of holding the line in zero-percent increases; one in each of the last two years. According to state formula, the Salamanca school district could have legally gone to the voters with an increase of levy of about 3.26 percent.

According to the numbers presented in the preliminary review, the district will see an increase of revenue of about $1.74 million in the coming school year, according to Magara. That equates to about a 6.9-percent increase mostly made possible through the impact aid and reserve accounts.

Expenditures for the coming year will be going up by the same percentage, 6.9 percent, according to Magara’s projections, with the same $1.749 million variance in years. The biggest drivers of expense for the coming year are in the mandated expenditures of teacher retirement and health insurance for the district. Teacher retirement contribution is expected to rise from 16.25 to 17.53 percent, an 8-percent increase. That reflects about $10,267 of additional spending.

Health insurance is expected to have a premium increase of about 7 percent, meaning that the district will see about $81,238 in spending increase.

The other positive to the budget plan is that additional staff is planned to be added to replace retirements in art, math, reading, science, social studies and two elementary teaching positions, as well as a social worker. In addition to those, a position will increase to full-time in home and careers, a math specialist will be added for Seneca Elementary, math curriculum and ELA curriculum coaches will be added to the kindergarten through grade 8 and two more elementary teachers will be added in the district.

Programs will also see growth, according to Magara’s budget plan. General professional development and technological development will be increased for faculty. Mini grants will also be established in the buildings to aid in small projects. The grants would be around $30,000, Magara said. A final piece of spending to be added would replace several items that have been neglected over the years, according to Magara, to include athletic equipment.

The final budget hearing is set for May 13 with the vote to be held on May 20.