What does the Budget Increase Mean for Hastings?

Oscar Hayes

It’s that time of the year again. The administration recently proposed their budget to the Board of Education for the 2022-2023 school year, this time with a significant 6.64% increase, which is higher than most years. I was able to speak about the budget with Superintendent Dr. McKersie as well as District Treasurer Maureen Caraballo, who Dr. McKersie described as a “great budget official, who we are very lucky to have.” 

This year’s budget includes a 2.9-million-dollar budget-to-budget increase. That means the district plans to spend 2.9 million dollars more in the 2022-2023 school year than it proposed to spend in 2021-2022.  

It was recently passed on a 4-2  vote by the board of education and now will be put to a vote for the citizens of Hastings. What does this increase mean for the district?

Ms. Caraballo told me that this increase was the highest Hastings has had in over 10 years and is being driven by new debt and the fact the district has had lower-than-average budgets the preceding two budget cycles. Dr. McKersie also added that “nearly 75% of our budget increase is based on three things: salary, contracts, and bonds [for capital improvements].” 

Despite the significance of the increase, the budget will not “add anything new to the school,” Ms. Caraballo said, adding that nothing would be cut either.  “Although the increase is higher than it has been historically, we are committed to maintaining all educational and extracurricular programming.” Don’t expect any major additions being made because of the increase. 

Over the course of last year, Hastings invested in several “large ticket items,” such as building repairs, the new addition to Hillside Elementary School, and the music suite. “Roughly one million dollars of the increase is to pay for the capital improvements and the required debt to pay for it,” Caraballo said. It was a big year for Hastings so a boost like this is necessary, the district contends. 

Another reason for the higher budget, Ms. Caraballo said, is rising prices. A majority of the money being allocated is for “maintaining everything we currently have in the district” according to Ms. Caraballo. The cost of wages and utilities are rising, so the budget needs to rise as well. 

“We are holding on to all of our core programs through this budget,” Dr. McKersie said. 

“85% of what we spend [the taxpayers’] money on is people,” Caraballo said. If this increase was any lower, it would require “significant reductions or cuts to personnel and programs.”  At the high school, this could mean reducing the number of teachers within certain departments, for example. 

How will citizens respond to the high price tag on this budget? Ms. Caraballo said that “it’s important for people to understand that while the increase may be significant, it is a long-term investment in the school.” This first year debt payments may be high, but they won’t be this large in following years. 

Dr. McKersie noted that the district’s large investment in facilities is more important than one might think. He noted that other wealthy towns, in New York and Connecticut that had the opportunity to increase their budget in order to invest in facilities and opted not to have seen negative consequences, including mold problems and even the ceilings falling in. 

Additionally, Dr. McKersie wants to keep Hastings’ strong programs and this budget will help. As treasurer Ms. Caraballo said, “It’s a long-term investment in the community and coming out of a post-covid era; now is not the time to make cuts. “The increase may seem momentous this year, but it is all to maintain Hasting’s as a strong school and change it for the better.”