On May 17, 2017, all residents of Tompkins County had the chance to vote in the elections for their respective school districts. Candidates for the Board of Education and the 2017–18 ICSD budget, the creation of a reserve fund for school expenditure, maintenance and upkeep projects, were all on the ballot for Ithaca residents. All measures were approved by large margins, and the budget will signal some slight changes in district policy.
While the overall budget grew by 4.7 percent from $119 million to about $125 million, the district has been able to reduce its tax rate by 1.1 percent, thanks to greater state aid and revenue. Additionally, Proposition 2 of the election, allowing the district greater financial freedom by utilizing capital that had been saved in a reserve fund in 2013, is intended to ease the financial burden on Ithaca residents. To counter the withdrawal, the successful Proposition 3 will create a capital reserve fund in 2018, available for use until the end of the 2023-24 school year. The district’s increased fiscal responsibility and tax decreases are positive signs, and are especially welcome following the substantial tax increases in 2014-15.
The budget itself was significant in providing spending for a few important initiatives. A steady increase in the number of students enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, as well as a desire to reduce class sizes in elementary schools, resulted in a roughly 10 percent increase in the budget allocation for new teachers. Additionally, spending for district technology initiatives and for audio, visual, and media materials all increased, a result of the district’s increased commitment to engagement in the classroom.
A source of controversy in the budget was the allotment for a large salary raise for Superintendent Luvelle Brown. His annual salary increased by over $44,000, an increase of almost 24 percent from his previous salary of $185,711. Many pointed out that this raise was more than the starting salary for new teachers at ICSD, and this raise will likely be a point of contention in budget talks for the 2018–19 budget.
Overall, the budget’s approval is a positive sign for ICSD. In just a few years, they have gone from receiving a “susceptible to fiscal stress” designation by the Office of the Comptroller for New York in 2014, to now being fiscally stable and able to reduce taxes. ICSD continues to invest in technology, has plans to invest in renovations and infrastructure projects in the coming year, and will look to maintain a balanced budget while investing in the future of its students.