School district officials use a virtual town hall to discuss the plan to exceed the state's tax cap on its budget
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VICTOR — Victor Central School District officials sought to answer questions and offer clarifications on the district’s plan to exceed the state's tax cap Wednesday night, in a virtual town hall held on the district’s Facebook page.
“This is going to be a little different from our previous town halls,” Superintendent Tim Terranova said, adding that the emphasis was on the district’s budget, but also on “what’s best for our students and what’s best for our community.”
Currently, the district is hoping to increase the total budget by 6.14% from last year with a tax levy increase of 9.34%. This means the tax rate is projected to increase to $17.14 for the 2020-2021 budget, an increase of 7.8% compared to last year, which stood at $15.90. That would mean a total tax increase of $205 for a home valued at $200,000, according to projections from district materials.
While initial plans called for a vote in mid-May, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a halt to that initial deadline. As a result, Terranova was now looking at a possible approval from the Board of Education in mid-May for the proposed increase, after which it would go to voters in June, where a 60% approval threshold would need to be met for the tax cap increase to go through.
Using the video conferencing program Zoom, broadcast through Facebook Live, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Jay Schickling spoke at length about the changes to the budget, along with where the money would be allocated. One specific increase he addressed was the addition of several new staff positions, some of which were mandated by the state.
“This budget adds several positions in special education, and again, that goes back to state requirements for meeting the needs of those students that have special needs," Schickling said. "We’re also adding English Language Learning positions, because we have seen a demographic increase in students that have a need to learn a second language.”
A counselor was also added at Victor Senior High School, according to Schickling, “because there is a disparity in terms of the ratio of counselors to students.”
Schickling also made clear that the new budget preserves “a vast majority” of the programs currently offered by the district, including the current class sizes, clubs and other extracurricular activities.
After addressing budget specifics, Terranova transitioned to reviewing the questions and comments posted on the survey website ThoughtExchange, which was made available to the public until Wednesday afternoon. With 338 people participating in the survey, offering 289 thoughts, Terranova and his staff organized the collective comments into eight “themes,” as he termed it.
For the most part, the comments he did read were largely supportive of the district’s proposed tax cap increase. Many participants were eager to maintain and expand the current programs, staff and “educational opportunities” offered by the district, according to one comment Terranova read.
Yet some of the commenters also desired assurances from school officials, wanting to make sure the additional money raised from the levy increase went to programs designed to benefit the student body. For that, Terranova echoed earlier statements he had made, discussing how he was striving to stay “transparent” as the budget discussions continued.
Terranova also said the district may need to exceed the gap again in the following year, due to economic difficulties stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re not going to sugarcoat that,” he added.
Terranova and Schickling, after addressing the specific themes arising from individual questions, closed out by offering a wider perspective on where Victor Central Schools compared to other districts.
“From my perspective, we as a district are not able to recruit the best staff at a severe reduction from other districts. We can’t fuel our buses at a lower cost than any other district can,” Schickling said. “We have less of those things.”