PORTVILLE — The Portville Central School District is asking the community to trust that increasing both spending and taxes by more than 2 percent is an efficient move that will actually keep Portville the lowest-spending school district in the region.
The district’s $18,666,44 operating budget proposal for the 2019-20 school year represents a 2.45 percent spending increase from this school year, while its proposal for a $4.75 million property tax levy represents a 2.5 percent increase.
The $18.66 million budget, along with all other school district budgets throughout the state, will be put out to vote May 21.
Portville Superintendent Tom Simon said spending and tax increases are needed because the district already runs a tight budget. Portville spends less per student — $17,097 — than any other school district in the 57th State Senate District, according a report earlier this year by the New York State Association of School Business Officials.
“Because we spend so much less than everybody else per pupil, we’re very tight to the bone in terms of our ability to keep cutting and cutting and cutting,” Simon said. “We’re not in a position where we can just cruise along with excess money because we don’t have that.”
He added the additional funds would simply cover increasing costs felt by most school districts, whether they be salary bumps for existing staff or more unfunded mandates from the New York State Education Department.
Simon also noted that while the budget proposal totals $18.66 million, spending on Portville will only be $17.98 million. The additional roughly $700,000 comes from the Olean City School District’s portion of the two districts’ shared transportation agreement and will be paid entirely by the OCSD.
He said it’s important taxpayers realize that while this is the second year in a row Portville has proposed spending and tax increases of at least 2 percent, the district’s average budget and tax increases over the last five years is only 1.75 percent and 1.68 percent, respectively.
He called the last decade the lowest spending growth period in the history of the district, noting taxpayers saw tax increases in the high-teens and sometimes as high as 50 percent in the 1950s and ’60s after the current school building was built.
New York’s 2 percent tax cap, adopted in 2011, means school districts cannot raise the property tax levy by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. A school district needs at least a 60-percent voter approval to override the cap.
Portville won’t need 60-percent voter approval to increase the tax levy 2.5 percent in this budget, as the cap allows it to raise it as much as 3.6 percent.
Simon said when people ask him why a 2.5 percent tax increase is needed, “the answer to that question — point blank — is the state keeps underfunding us based on what the law says they should be.”
He pointed to the recent report from New York State Association of School Business Officials, which claims the state still owes some local school districts and districts throughout the state more foundation aid, which makes up the bulk of school aid.
The reports states Portville should receive an extra $3.11 million in foundation aid.
Advocates often criticize the state legislature for not properly following its foundation aid formula by underfunding some districts while overfunding others.
“They come up with their own way of distributing. They selectively pick winners and losers out of that bunch,” Simon said. “We’re not getting what the law says we should. If they want to change the law, then they should probably do that, but for now, I don’t understand how that happens, but it does.”
Despite not spending much per student, Simon said Portville is able to offer students many opportunities — like nearly 50 college credits and a chance to work in its Envisioneering Center — because it saves money in reserves and then actually spends it.
“There are very few school districts that put money in reserves and take it out and spend it on things — and we do,” he said. “We take it out to spend it on opportunities for kids and we take it out to spend it when we know it’s going to help with one-time expenditures.”
He also credited the district’s faculty and staff for finding ways to efficiently offer extra opportunities.
“We’re doing what we can to balance our responsibility to both the taxpayers and to make sure every minute of the day we’re trying to provide better and richer and deeper and more diverse opportunities for kids,” Simon said. “We’re trying to balance those two worlds every day and the data speaks volumes about how well we’re doing it.”
In addition to the budget proposal, community members will also vote on the district’s $13.8 million capital project. The project, which would upgrade elementary school classrooms and utilities, as well as the middle-high school’s auditorium, pool and science labs, does not carry a local tax impact.
A public hearing on both the budget and capital project proposals will take place at 7:30 p.m. May 7.
Voting will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. on May 21.