With draft budget, district seeks to restore, expand programs

Workshop set for March 8

Restoring full-day pre-kindergarten and other programs that were cut in recent years, and expanding STEM opportunities for students, are among Superintendent Robert Miller’s priorities looking ahead to next year. Miller presented his draft 2017-18 budget proposal and five-year financial plan to the board of education at its Feb. 15 meeting.

View the complete budget development calendar on the district’s Budget & Taxes page.

The budget draft shows a 5.7 percent — $1,320,000 — increase in spending for next year, as well as a tax levy increase within Herkimer’s projected 2017-18 tax levy limit (or “cap”) of 1.72 percent. The district is also taking into account the $1 million state aid increase proposed for Herkimer in Governor Cuomo’s Executive budget plan, which was released in January.

Given these figures, the district is projecting a roughly $396,000 budget gap between expenses and revenues.

Board to continue work March 8

The board will hold a workshop on March 8 to work on the proposed spending plan for next year. At this time, the board’s options include budget reductions, additional use of fund balance, or a tax levy increase above the state-set tax levy limit – or “cap” – as ways to fill the current gap as the district awaits final state aid figures. A final, on-time state budget is expected by April 1.

Miller said it is his hope that the final state budget will include enough funding for Herkimer to expand programs for students, without the district having to reduce the draft budget or increase the tax levy by more than the projected 1.72 percent allowed by the district’s tax cap for next year. A proposed school budget with a levy that exceeds the cap requires a super majority vote of 60 percent for approval.

For district, expanded programs = college and career readiness

In the draft budget, the district is looking to restore full-day pre-kindergarten next year, which had been cut in a previous budget year. Miller is also proposing that the district add a section of third grade to accommodate growing class sizes at the elementary school.

At the high school, Miller is hoping to build on the district’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming by providing a variety of new and expanded opportunities for students.

“Expanding our focus on STEM education will help prepare our students to compete for educational and professional opportunities after graduation,” Miller said.

Miller’s draft budget also includes funding for a coding and computer science class, as well as funding to expand two existing programs — a partnership allowing Herkimer students to travel to Frankfort-Schuyler for an engineering course, and the Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School program at Herkimer BOCES.

Strategic staffing a focus of proposed budget

The draft budget also includes funding to replacing six part-time cleaners with three full-time cleaners, and adding a full-time custodian or maintenance mechanic to the district, at an additional cost of about $100,000. Miller said the district has had trouble filling the part-time positions, and that making the positions full-time may make it easier to hire and retain staff in those positions.

The draft budget also includes funding for increased salaries and benefits for both instructional and administrative staff members, as well as BOCES expenses. Miller’s proposed budget also outlines plans for the district to begin making debt service payments on the $10.4 million capital project approved by voters in 2014.

Two administrative positions — the assistant superintendent, and business official — remain vacant at a savings of $250,000 to the district. The BOCES facilities director, and a combined athletic director/assistant principal position, also remain open. Miller said the district is working to restore the business position, either through internal training or through shared services, within the next several years, but that funding is still lacking to restore the other vacant positions.

The board is expected to adopt its final budget proposal – which will go before district voters on May 16 – at its April 12 meeting. This meeting, the March 8 workshop and all school board meetings are open to the public.