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Residents to decide on proposed $22.6 million budget on June 9

At its May 7 meeting, the Canajoharie Board of Education approved a $22,610,925 million proposed budget for the 2020-21 school year. The proposed spending plan will go before voters on Tuesday, June 9. Per an executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the school budget vote and board elections will be by absentee ballot only this year.

The proposed budget represents a 0.15 percent, or $33,965, an increase in spending. It proposes a property tax levy of 2.49% percent, which is under the district’s allowable limit as calculated under the state’s “tax cap” formula. A simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) is needed for approval.

“The district strives to attain three goals: Maintain and enhance programs for our students, keep the tax increase under the mandatory property tax levy cap, and preserve jobs to the greatest extent possible,” said Superintendent Dr. Nick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald noted that the proposed tax levy is a full percentage point less than last year.

The district expects to add new courses for students, a specialized program to accommodate the individual needs of students previously placed in programming outside of the district, distance learning, and possibly some after school programs with the goal of retaining all staff.

Canajoharie may face additional reductions to its state aid as the enacted state budget includes three “look back” periods in May, July, and December. At these times, the  State Division of Budget will evaluate revenues against projections and potentially withhold or adjust aid to localities, including school districts. This possibility for mid-year aid cuts means that Canajoharie may receive even less state funding than it appears at this time. 

“The reductions may be more or less, but we are accounting for another possible large reduction that could affect future budgets,” said Fitzgerald.

In addition, in an effort to deal with the financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, the state budget includes a state aid reduction, the “Pandemic Adjustment,” that totals $1.1 billion statewide. 

For Canajoharie, the Pandemic Adjustment is $411,000. The enacted state budget calls to use federal stimulus money to cover the Pandemic Adjustment this year. While the federal stimulus offers relief this year, it remains to be seen if and how this will be applied to state funding in future years.

The district will realize savings as the result of retirements, a renegotiated health insurance contract, and establishing a specialized program to accommodate the individualized needs of students previously placed in programming outside of the district.   

A total of 61.67% of the district’s revenue comes from state aid. The remaining 33.4% of revenue is derived from property taxes. To help balance the budget, the district will use $550,996 in appropriated fund balance and reserves, of which $375,000 is allocated specifically for the Employee Retirement System expense.  

If the budget is approved, the estimated annual tax increase would be $50.88, or $4.24 per month, for a home assessed at $100,000.

“The district continues to explore every possibility to maximize our use of funds to support the best learning opportunities for our students,” said Fitzgerald. “Our focus is on giving students the best chance to succeed.”If the proposed budget is approved, the district will expand course offerings through the use of distance learning and district opportunities.

“Distance learning, for example, allows for courses that the district could not offer and gives the students an opportunity to collaborate with students from other districts with the use of technology,” said Fitzgerald. Much of the cost of the program is reimbursable through the district’s NERIC/BOCES service.

The ballot also will include a proposition to establish a non-voting student representative position on the Board of Education and a bus proposition. 

The ex-officio student member would attend and participate in all board meetings. However, as an ex-officio member, the student would not vote and would not attend confidential executive sessions. To be eligible for the position, student candidates must have attended Canajoharie High School for at least two years prior to the appointment and be a senior during the year of service. If approved, the board would work with the superintendent and the high school principal to define the procedures for selecting an eligible student. The board’s authority to appoint a student representative must be approved by voters and re-approved every two years.

In addition, the ballot will include a proposition that allows the district to lease three 66-passenger school buses for a cost of $52,425. The cost of the lease is $17,475 for each bus over five years.  This proposition has been annually done in March, but to make things easier for the voters, we put everything on one ballot for one vote.  The funding for this proposition will come from the district’s Bus Replacement Reserve Fund and will have no tax impact.

Additional details on the proposed budget will be posted on the district website and shared in the annual budget newsletter, which will be mailed to all residents in late May.  A virtual public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 28, 2020, at 6:30 p.m.

Absentee ballots will be sent out to all voters and must be returned by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.  If you do not receive a ballot and believe you should have, please contact the district clerk at 518-673-6302 or andrea.muhlebeck@canjo.org. Ballots will include a postage-paid envelope so voters can return them by mail