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School Budgets: When Two Percent Isn't Two Percent.

(Source: Jason Weinstein)

When is two percent not two percent? When it comes to the state's two-percent tax cap.

"So the number may actually be five percent or eight percent," said Catherine Klein of the New York State Union of Teachers.

The cap is a formula which allows for a number of exemptions. This year rises in pension costs have districts under or at the cap while asking for more than two percent. One example, Maine-Endwell. That district is proposing a budget at it's limit under the cap - 5.94 percent.

"Many school districts are seein that exemption moving up their tax levy," said M-E Superintendent Jason Van Fossen.

Despite the tax hike M-E's budget calls for the elimination of 75 positions due to a dramatic drop in reserves. The New York State Union of Teachers estimates 275 positions will be cut throughout the Southern Tier, although that number is a drop from recent years. But districts don't want to chance proposing a plan that doesn't pass.

"That is partly a guessing game in terms of what we think is affordable. We do know that once you edge up to the maximum allowable levy, it's risky," said Vestal Superintendent Mark LaRoach.

Districts can propose a budget above the cap - but that plan needs 60-percent approval to take effect. The only Southern Tier district doing that this year is Elmira Heights - proposing a budget with a 6.9-percent increase despite a 5.4-percent cap.

"We're trying to find a balance between not depleting the fund balance at a very difficult rate while asking the community to step forward and give a little bit more," said Mary Beth Fiore, Superintendent of Elmira Heights School District.

****In Broome County, Jason Weinstein, FOX 40 HD News****

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