After several months in development, the Marlboro School Board has approved a $61,498,000 budget for the 2022-23 school year.
With the recent passage of the New York State budget, Foundation Aid to Marlboro came in at $21,084,767, which is $680,977 less than earlier estimates from the state.
Superintendent Michael Brooks highlighted several key points in the budget: a $2.1 million reduction in the tax levy, from $35,231,599 down to $33,116,599 that is to be collected from the taxpayers; the Teacher Retirement System will have an increase of $417,811 and the district is setting aside $1 million in the Capital Reserve line for use when needed in the future.
Brooks pointed out that a one-time payment of $1.6 million is included within the $61.4 million budget that will go toward the Vision 20/20 project, but that will drop off when the district compiles their 2023-24 school budget.
Board member James Mullen suggested a swap; moving the security position from the regular budget to the grant funded part of the budget and to move the 6th grade grant funded SOAR program into the regular budget. SOAR is a school readiness and enrichment program that allows children to grow at their own pace by teachers nurturing appropriate academic, critical thinking, fine motor and social skills.
Board member Mike Connors agreed.
“I also think it is imperative to adopt SOAR to make it permanent. It begins a tenure track for a fine teacher that we have on board right now and the results speak for themselves. Making the swap with the security contract is really just a paper transaction and doesn’t make any real shift in the budget. It makes a very worthwhile program permanent.”
The security position runs $100,000 and the SOAR teacher is $105,000. Brooks said $105,000, “is the all in cost for a first year teacher that includes the salary, health benefits, retirement, FICA, the insurance, everything.” He added that this amount is about the average in most school districts, pointing out that in Marlboro the salary portion of the total for a step 1 with a BA is about $55,000 and a step 1 with a Masters Degree is just above $60,000. He pointed out that whenever the district creates a new position, “it will be an open competitive search. Anyone that is currently assigned to something in that tenure area would be encouraged to apply as we are an equal opportunity employment agency.”
Board President John Cantone had a different take on Mullen’s proposed position swap.
“We got a lot of money here and even though it all balances where we have a lot going back to the taxpayers, we also have a lot of spending [with] $745,000 in our budget added this year plus almost $700,000 in the federal grant that is going to go away next year. Many of those [positions] may come up as another need to continue, which then would have to be moved into the budget,” he said. Cantone favored the budget without the swap, pointing out that the SOAR position was being paid for by a federal grant that can be re-evaluated next year, “and you have $100,000 in the security which is contractual, which means that at any time you can stop those security guards if you don’t need them, you don’t have to cut somebody...I kind of like it where it is and let’s see where it goes next year.”
Mullen said the district will be spending an additional $745,000 next year but will be receiving receiving $3.5 million in foundation aid.
“We need to make investments in our schools and our students and we are doing it in a fiscally responsibly way by also decreasing our levy,” he said. “We need to spend money on our students and our staff because they deserve it.” He believes the SOAR position should be on a tenure track.
Board member JoAnn Reed said the district has been making investments in the students, but highlighted the fact that the state decreased the school’s foundation aid by $680,000 for next year.
“You can’t keep asking; people are hurting for money,” she said as Mullen shouted her down by saying that the levy has been decreased by 6% this year. Cantone cut short the argument, allowing Reed to continue. She questioned what the district is going to do as the school budgets appear to be heading north of $60 million and may continue on that trajectory in the future.
Cantone cautioned the board that the amount the district receives in foundation aid should not be counted upon in future years.
“Anything at any time can change in New York State, nothing is guaranteed,” he said.
Connors said he is fine with the 2022-23 levy and the total amount of the budget but reiterated his belief that the SOAR program should be made permanent.
“We still have flexibility because until we tenure somebody you can let them go the same way as you can under a federal grant,” he said.
Connors said the district should not rely upon Foundation Aid because, “if we get more we get more, whatever the number is the number is, but a number of us on this board this year have worked very hard on making the pie bigger.” He pointed out that there is only so much of the annual budget the board can impact because of payroll and contractual commitments, “and we’re left with a tiny sliver of the pie that we can actually manipulate and the best control we have over that is not necessarily to play with that piece of the pie but it’s to make the whole pie bigger.” He noted that the proposed residential Bayside project, two small shopping centers and a 160 unit residential project in Middle Hope and another Dollar General will bring in more revenue.
The motion to swap the SOAR and Security positions in the budget failed by a vote of 4-3 with no votes against the swap cast by Karen Brooks, Patricia Benninger, John Cantone and Faith Nannini and the yes votes cast by JoAnn Reed, Mike Connors and James Mullen.
The vote to approve the $61.4 million budget for the 2022-23 school year was unanimous, 7-0.
The school board will hold a budget hearing at their May 5th meeting at 7:30 p.m. to answer questions from the public and the actual budget vote is scheduled for May 17 from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. The meeting and the vote will take place at Town Hall, 21 Milton Tnpk., Milton.