Mrs. Cheryl Steckly
Superintendent of Schools
7668 State Street
Lowville, NY 13367
Letter from the Superintendent
Dear Parents and Community Members,
Happy New Year
A new year is once again before us. The beginning of a year is an exciting time, we reflect on all of our past achievements and take time to set new goals for the important work in 2017 and beyond. As we pass the mid-point of the school year, it is important to remain focused on learning and growing. There is a great deal to do in the months ahead and we look forward to working with all of our students to prepare them for the challenging tasks that are before them. We hope the new year will bring your child success in school and in all that they do. We will do all that we can to make this happen.
Two half-days of in-service have been scheduled in the upcoming months. These days provide an opportunity for staff to be involved in important professional development focused on improving instruction and knowledge related to the content areas. Students will be dismissed be at 12:40 on February 8 and March 8. Lunch will be served prior to dismissal.
Parent Teacher Conferences
On Wednesday, March 22 students in grades K-5 will be dismissed at 12:40 for spring parent conferences. Please look for more information from the elementary office regarding this important date.
Tax Stabilization Reserve
As mentioned in previous newsletters, the Board of Education has persistently sought approval from the NYS Legislature since 2008 to establish a reserve fund for future tax stabilization. We were happily rewarded for our efforts with a new law signed by the Governor on September 30, 2016 allowing a reserve specifically designed for this purpose. During the annual vote in May, the Board of Education will seek your approval to establish an Energy System Tax Stabilization Reserve. This will make it possible for the District to reallocate funds that have been intentionally set aside throughout the last several years into the newly authorized reserve meeting guidelines established by the NYS Comptroller’s Office. These funds are to be used to offset future tax increases that may result from the end of the Maple Ridge PILOT. As a district we have been most fortunate to be a recipients of this revenue source. As a result of the PILOT, the district has been able to maintain and grow exceptional academic programs and opportunities for students, move forward with two capital projects that have focused on improving and maintaining the facilities with little to no cost to local taxpayers, and stabilize taxes for ten years. While this has been an exceptional opportunity for the district and local community, the end of the PILOT is drawing to a close in 2021. The Board will continue to make fiscally conservative decisions that will focus on ensuring financial stability for the future.
State Budget News
As of the printing of this newsletter, the NYS Legislature has returned to Albany and started budget deliberations with Governor Cuomo. We remain hopeful that a reasonable course of action that focuses on the educational needs of our children will be considered in the final state budget decisions. Our Board of Education and administrative staff will be working hard in the weeks ahead to carefully evaluate every aspect of the 2017-18 projected budget. The Board has focused on the budget since December with considerable time spent on the development of a spending plan that meets the educational needs of the district while accommodating the economic issues at the national, state and local level. The Q & A segment that follows will help give interested citizens a good working knowledge of the challenges we will work to address in 2017-18.
What is the LACS Timeline for Budget Adoption?
Looking ahead, the following dates are important milestones as the budget comes together;
Board of Education Meetings - Upcoming 2017-18 Budget Development Workshops - February 10, March 3 and March 17, 2017
Adoption of 2017-18 Budget by LACS Board of Education -Tentatively Scheduled for April 10, 2017
Public Filing of the LACS Budget with NYS Education Department - By April 11, 2017
Official Public Hearing and Presentation - May 8, 2017 - LACS Elementary Cafeteria 6:30 p.m.
Annual Meeting including Trustee Election and Budget Vote - Tuesday, May 16 - 12:00 Noon-8:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium
What is the Board’s Overall Plan for 2017-18?
The Board has established a plan that will focus initially on maintaining academic, extracurricular and co-curricular programs while reducing whenever possible through attrition and other careful reductions.
Personnel Reductions - Where possible, staffing will be reduced through attrition. This has a programmatic impact and needs to be very carefully managed and well thought out. This decision will not be made until early April after the State adopts their budget.
Purchasing - The Board is carefully reviewing current expenditures in contractual services, supplies and equipment and being thoughtful regarding the addition of new sustaining costs.
Fund Balance/Reserves - The district will carefully offset the gap between necessary appropriation increases and the minimal increase in state aid partially through the use of fund balance put aside in past years. This can modestly be done over the next few years, but at some point these dollars disappear from the savings side and can’t be replaced if state aid doesn’t flow at appropriate levels.
How Does the Wind Turbine PILOT Affect the Budget?
The PILOT will continue to have a major impact on Lowville Academy in the years ahead. The current PILOT payment of approximately $3.4 million is nearly equal to our entire tax warrant. In 2017-18, the PILOT is scheduled to remain level. To prevent potential financial stress to the district, the Board of Education has devoted most of the PILOT revenue to year-by-year tax stabilization. The Board of Education’s use of PILOT funds to hold taxes “stable” over the last ten years actually helped cause a significant decline in tax rates for the 11 towns in the Lowville Academy and Central School District. LACS school taxes proportionately are among the lowest for similar size rural school districts in NYS.
How Has the Board of Education Managed Reserve Funds Over the Last Five Years?
The district’s current Fund Balance sets aside approximately three times the amount of a full PILOT payment to offset any potential failure of the PILOT. This reserve would protect the district should an immediate problem occur.
Will the Tax Cap Impact LACS?
The tax cap uses a threshold of the lesser of 2% or the CPI as a starting point in determining the tax levy limit for any given school district. The levy limit formula includes other variables such as a growth factor and exclusions for pension and capital changes to actually establish the exact levy limit. It appears clear, using this formula, that Lowville Academy’s tax cap maximum is estimated to be lower than 2% due to this year’s rate of inflation.
Does the Tax Cap Mean School Taxes Can’t Increase More Than 2 Percent?
No, a budget requiring a tax levy increase at or below the tax levy limit is put before the voters in May and requires approval from a simple majority of voters for passage. Should the Board of Education wish to exceed the tax levy limit, the community must approve this minimally with a super majority of 60% or higher.
Will the District Stay Within the Tax Cap?
The Board will make every effort to stay within the tax cap. Exceeding the cap would require an override by a positive super majority vote. The budget is still being developed, however, at this time the board does not anticipate seeking permission to exceed the cap.
If the Tax Levy Goes Up By x Percent, Does That Mean Everyone’s Taxes Go Up By x Percent, Also?
Not necessarily. Any change in the levy does not directly apply to individual property tax rates or changes in school taxes due in a given year. Tax rates paid by individual taxpayers may differ greatly from one household to another, based on things such as assessed value, equalization rates, STAR, etc. and may exceed 2%.
What If Voters Reject The Proposed Tax Levy?
If voters in the district reject the proposed budget, the school board may adopt a budget with a tax levy no greater than what was levied the previous year or put up either the same or a revised budget for a second vote. If voters reject the spending plan twice, schools must adopt a budget with the same tax levy as the prior year - essentially a zero percent cap.
As we go forward, please know the Board of Education will continue to work diligently to put the very best financial plan together for our school community. Please look for additional information in the April and May newsletters.
As we move into 2017, I want to thank each of your for supporting your child and working in partnership with us as we remain focused on our goal of providing the best educational opportunities for each of our students. Your commitment and dedication to both your children and to our community is evident and is deeply appreciated. It is truly a privilege to serve as Superintendent of Lowville Academy with the knowledge that our community recognizes education as being the key to a better life. Once again, thank you and Happy New Year!
Cheryl R. Steckly
Superintendent of Schools
SCHOOL DISTRICT TAX CODE
The New York State personal income tax form calls for a school district tax code.
The code for those living in the Lowville Central School District is #355