SLC school budget set for Tuesday vote

Voters in the St. Lawrence Central School District will see a 1.5% tax levy increase if they approve the district’s 2022-23 budget on Tuesday. Bob Beckstead/Watertown Daily Times

BRASHER FALLS — Voters in the St. Lawrence Central School District will see a 1.5% tax levy increase if they approve the district’s 2022-23 budget on Tuesday.

The $27,806,564 budget is a 5.8%, or $1,527,207 increase over the 2021-22 spending plan.

“This year’s tax levy percent increase is well below the allowable tax cap at 1.5%. Our tax cap for this year could have been 5.48%,” Superintendent Christopher W. Rose said.

He said the total tax levy increase is $79,289.

“For a home fully assessed at $100,000, the increase in taxes before the STAR exemption would be $2.44 per month, or $29.25 for the year,” Mr. Rose said.

He said the district was heavily dependent on state aid, which accounts for 75% of its overall revenue.

“When state aid runs came out, our district had received an increase in foundation aid of 9.5%,” he said. “Foundation aid, which is the largest portion of school aid, accounts for about half of our district’s overall revenue each year. This is the second increase in as many years and is beginning to make up for the combined losses of $5.2 million owed to our district from 2019 and 2020.”

But, Mr. Rose said, despite the increase, which gets the district to 92% fully funded, they will still be underfunded in 2022-23 by $1.1 million compared to full funding rates.

“New York state has announced that all schools will be fully funded by 2023-24, but that the actual foundation aid formula will almost certainly change before that occurs. If this formula changes, it will most likely mean a drop in the $1.1 million SLC will be owed to reach a fully funded district by 2023-24,” he said.

For now, the district has worked through the COVID crisis and is starting to return to normal operations while preparing for the future, according to the superintendent.

“A large challenge has been laid before all of us since that day in March of 2020 when the new world of remote learning began due to COVID-19. Although not gone from our lives entirely... a return to normalcy has started to make its way back to our district. With this return, our district’s goal is to look at what lasting challenges have been created and find the best solutions to getting everyone readjusted to how our educational and social lives will be... moving forward,” Mr. Rose said.

“...We have constructed this budget with forward thinking in mind. How will we manage the new challenges and rebuild our educational expectations for SLC so that ‘all students will attain their maximum potential in the future?’” he said.

With the foundation aid increase and community support from the tax levy increase, along with an influx of federal stimulus funding, he said they would focus heavily on rebuilding and creating programs that addressed the gaps in learning that have occurred since March 2020. They also plan to prepare students to use technology, and reintroduce work-based skills and socialization skills “so our students have the tools they need to again be successful both in and out of the classroom.”

The budget will also include funding for a capital outlay project that will focus on the elementary building. The district receives 98% state aid on the investment and is able to make yearly facility improvements for $2,000 after reimbursement.

“Our plan is to replace the existing HVAC condenser, two cafeteria doors, a man door at the loading dock, and replace all the kitchen faucets to comply with the new lead/copper regulations that are coming,” Mr. Rose said.

They will also be asking for authorization to purchase three school buses at a cost not to exceed $325,000. The state will pay 90% of the cost of the buses and interest over the five-year payback period.

Two incumbents, Abdo Bejjani and Terri Rios-Passon, will be on the ballot for two board of education seats.

Voting will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the middle school gymnasium.

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