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Proposed Saratoga Springs school budget includes spending, tax levy increases

The MacFadden Administration Building on the Saratoga Springs High School campus
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
The MacFadden Administration Building on the Saratoga Springs High School campus

Voters will decide on an increased Saratoga Springs city school district budget next week.

A proposed budget for the 2024-2025 school year is on Tuesday’s ballot, along with three spots on the school board.

If approved, the roughly $148 million budget would be just under $6 million more from the previous year — a 4.2% increase in spending, with a 3.49% tax levy increase.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Bobby Yusko says a majority of the spending is a result of increases to salaries and benefits, accounting for roughly 76% of the entire budget.

“So, really, it’s kind of a budget that is, I think, in line with the CPI growth that we see from year-to-year. What’s surprising to me is not the growth of annual expenditures, it’s being able to meet those obligations with the revenue side of the equation,” said Yusko.

School districts across the state braced for changes to their funding formulas as Governor Kathy Hochul floated a proposal to cut “hold harmless,” which ensures schools receive at least the same amount of money from the previous year. The practice was restored during budget talks.

A report by the fiscal watchdog Empire Center finds that New York schools are preparing to spend more than $33,000 per student, up 4.4% from the previous year. Research director Ken Girardin says the state is not seeing a good return on investment.

“We are concerned, first and foremost, about whether we are getting a good return for the level of spending that we are putting in. New York public schools, in the last federal assessment, scored behind Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky even while spending 91% more than the national average on a per pupil basis,” he said.

While “hold harmless” remains for the time being, Yusko says the tax levy hike in Saratoga Springs, which translates into a $3.3 million increase, is part of future-proofing the district’s funding.

“That initial impact for Saratoga really called for a decrease year-to-year of 10.21% or $2.5 million in our major categorical aid of Foundation Aid,” said Yusko.

Yusko says increases will go to support staff and teachers and are aimed at improving the educational environment.

“We have really a strong emphasis placed on some of the opportunities we have to grow our own programing and our focus on literacy and professional development here. So that’s one thing that, on top of being able to invest in the staff we currently have, it’s creating these [professional development] opportunities so that we’re always up to date in best practices, making sure that we’re on top of any new regulations that are coming down from the state level,” said Yusko.

Yusko says declining enrollments and a $7 million budget gap came together in January to force district leadership to find ways to save on the ‘24-‘25 budget.

“Really I think we were able to more algin the staff towards those enrollment trends where we had 11 retirements, we were comfortable realizing savings and not replacing those positions. So we’ve realized saving through attrition, that’s part of the reduction that you see. But also, you know, positions that had started the ’23-’24 school year that were not filled so basically, they were open,” said Yusko.

Yusko says no layoffs occurred in the process of finding budget savings.

Girardin says declining enrollment and increased spending is a risky combo.

“Saratoga Springs is on track to have their enrollment drop by about 10% over the past 10 years. But, to look at their budget, they are spending like a district that is growing. They are getting 4% more aid from the state next year, they are raising the property taxes as much as they can without having to override the property tax cap. And it really raises questions about the sustainability of what they’re trying to do,” said Girardin.

Polls will be open May 21st from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.