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Ithaca’s school budget was rejected by voters. Here’s what’s been cut in their latest proposal

The district says most of the budget will go towards salaries and benefits.
Aurora Berry
The budget revote is on June 18th.

Voters in the Ithaca City School District rejected a budget proposal last month. It would have increased the tax levy by around eight percent.

But there’s still another opportunity for Ithaca residents to decide on the school budget. On Tuesday, a budget revote on a new proposal, with a smaller increase in the tax levy, is on the ballot.

This budget proposal would increase the levy by about three percent. If it fails, the district will fall back on a contingency budget that won’t increase the tax levy.

WSKG’s Aurora Berry spoke with Amanda Verba, the district’s chief operations officer, and Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott about what each choice could mean for the district.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



So the first proposed budget for the Ithaca City School District was voted down at the ballot box. Now we’re looking at a second version of the budget to be put forward for a revote next week.

What cuts have been made since that first proposed budget, and are there any funding changes that you think are particularly notable that the voters should know about?

TALCOTT: So in May, we went out for a budget that was a little over $168 million. Since that went down we've worked tirelessly, I will say, in order to make about $5.9 million in reductions, we see the $163 million now that we're going out for the voters to make a decision on on June 18.

Some of the big reductions really came from what we heard from the community. So we recognize the importance of maintaining the direct student support that we have as much as possible. So we've tried to hold that very sacred, while also reducing some administrative costs. The administrative labor costs, we found ways to reduce by 22%. That's pretty significant. We obviously will see a lot of changes in terms of response time and some of the supports that we've been able to offer in terms of having fewer administrators, but we heard that was really important.

We also know that we want to maintain our ability to pay our educators more as we enter negotiations for a few of our units. We also heard and are ensuring that we're adhering to focusing our professional development on literacy, mathematics and inclusion efforts.

We also are going to pause on equipment purchases and pause on some of the maintenance that we had wanted to do as well and really work on what we have now in our physical spaces. We are going to have class size minimums at elementary and secondary, at around 17 students. So we're still maintaining a low class size, but it will be slightly larger than we had seen during COVID. So we're transitioning really in a lot of ways back to pre-COVID levels. So those are some of the big elements.

And, you know, when you're talking about $5.9 million, unfortunately, we're talking about people's positions. So vacancy control is going to be really important and we are in the midst of a hiring chill. So we will not be replacing a number of the vacancies that already exist now.

BERRY: What exactly would a hiring chill mean?

TALCOTT: Openings that currently exist that we have posted for, it means we're taking a look at every single one of them and making a determination about whether we can wait or if we absolutely need it.

BERRY: Talk to me about what will happen if this proposal doesn’t pass.

TALCOTT: A contingency budget would mean an additional $3.1 million in reductions compared to what we’re putting out now.

VERBA: Well, I'm going to first start by saying that we're very cognizant that, regardless of how we frame the conversation about a contingency budget, it feels scary. That is not our intention. What our intention is, is to really share the statutes of the law that we have to follow. So there are prescribed guidance documents from the New York State Education Department that say what a school district is allowed to be able to fund under a contingency budget.

The first rule of a contingency budget is that you can only levy the taxes from the current year that you're in. So that is a 0% increase in tax levy, and, as you can imagine, we have bargained agreements that give people a four, five, four and a half percent raise. Right there, you need to actually take a look at your budget, and when I say budget, I mean the people that make up that budget, and you're going to have to decrease numbers. Because you will have less money to be able to fund increases for the next year.

The second thing is that there are caps on things like administration, so we will have to look to probably cut even deeper on that.

Really, under a contingency budget, you get your students to school, the school bell rings, they experience the day, the school bell rings at the end of the day, they get on their buses, and they go home.

We can fund after-school activities that are sponsored by the school district. We can fund things like athletics, if we have enough budget to do that. What we cannot do is offer our buildings and our campuses to outside groups unless they are able to pay the full cost of utilization of those campuses. So everything from the utility bill for that amount of time, to if there's overtime for custodial, to the trash removal, all of those things have to go into play. It doesn't mean that those things can't happen. It just means that they can't be located on public school grounds unless they're fully funded by that entity.

There would be probably no way around impacts to things like fine and performing arts and athletics.

School supplies, we cannot actually purchase school supplies that go directly to young people. We can buy supplies for teachers, but we cannot buy anything that would be given to a student.

BERRY: Alright, thank you so much for being here.

That was Ithaca City School District’s COO Amanda Verba and Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott talking about next steps for the district’s budget. Election day for that is June 18th.