Note: A 129 page pdf of complete survey results is available for download at the bottom of the page.
Music, the arts, Advanced Placement classes at the High School and smaller class sizes topped the educational priorities identified by those who responded to the first annual Budget Priority Survey conducted by the Kingston City School District.
“We are grateful that 801 community members took the time to share their thoughts on what programs they feel are most important in our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Paul J. Padalino. “This is valuable information as it will help the District and the Board of Education craft a budget that reflects the values of the community that we serve.”
Parents made up the largest proportion of respondents to the survey, at 60 percent, followed by District employees (22 %), community members without a child in school (17%), students (10%) and parents of private school students (3%).
(See Chart 1)
Those who took the survey were given the choice of rating certain programs or aspects of education as: 1) Essential and critical; 2) Very important; 3) Good to have, but not essential; and 4) Not important enough to preserve in a time of fiscal constraint.
Instructional expenses and employee benefits make up the most of the school budget, so the District crafted the first survey question to include the non-mandated programs and services that it currently provides. Night School, Summer School, and Alternative Education led the list of offerings considered by respondents to be “not important enough to preserve in a time of fiscal constraint” by those who responded. (See Chart 2)
Respondents were asked to rate their understanding of New York State’s tax levy limit legislation, and just 20 % of respondents affirmed that they fully understand the tax levy cap and its impact.
A complex eight-step formula now dictates the tax levy limit that Districts must adhere to if they decide to ask voters to approve a budget with a “simple majority” (more than 50%) of votes. The new law requires at least 60% voter approval if Districts decide to surpass this limit. The District held an informational presentation on the Tax Levy Limit in February at M. Clifford Miller Middle School. A video of the presentation, along with informational materials, is available on the District website.
“I’ve placed a priority on communicating about the new tax levy limit legislation, as it dramatically changes the regulations regarding school funding,” said Superintendent Padalino. “I encourage those respondents who feel they do not understand the tax cap to review the materials provided on our website.”
Many respondents who answered a question about why they have not previously voted on the school district budget cited “lack of information” or “not wanting to make uneducated decisions” as the reason they stayed away from the polls.
“Increasing transparency and encouraging stronger community engagement on all District issues is key to strengthening our schools, and the school budget process is no exception,” said Superintendent Padalino. To this end, the District has increased the number of community forums, with plans for four events at different locations in the community. Meetings are live-streamed for those who can not attend in person, and videos are archived on the District website.
Respondents were also asked to weigh in on whether or not they would support a capital project with a zero % tax impact. The District has proposed an $8 million capital repair project to replace the roofs at Edson Elementary School, John F. Kennedy Elementary School, and M. Clifford Miller Middle School. The project would also cover the costs of replacing a boiler and update emergency lighting at Harry L. Edson Elementary School.
In the survey results, 75% of respondents said they would support a capital project with zero tax impact, 20% said they would consider it (many asked for more information), 2% of respondents said no, and 1% of responses were not applicable.
Superintendent Padalino said he appreciates the high level of participation and the thoughtfully crafted answers submitted. “Thank you to the community members who took the time to complete our first annual Budget Priority Survey,” he said. “Increased community engagement is an important part of how we can continue to build an excellent educational system, even during challenging times.”