ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca City School District will turn to the voting public once again Tuesday, making its annual ask for permission from the community regarding its 2023-2024 annual budget.

The district needs a simple majority approval for the budget, unlike last year, when the rise in the tax levy required a super majority approval. While the district was approved for that budget rather easily, last year’s elections were rife with mishaps outside of the final election tallies. Additionally, there are seven candidates running for four open seats—more information on those races can be found here. Those looking to vote in person can find their polling place here—they may be different than general election polling locations.

The budget, as it is currently proposed, would be $158,588,080, which is a 6.47 percent increase over last year’s budget (or about $9.6 million more). The tax rate will decrease about 2.56 percent from last year, or from $16.84 in 2022 to $16.41 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2023. However, taxpayers can still expect a higher bill since the tax levy (total amount of money projected to be made through taxes by the district) is increasing by 3.97 percent and the aforementioned assessed value is ascending for homeowners in the district. The total tax levy for the school district is set for about $107.7 million from local property taxes, while state aid accounts for $36 million, money already accrued or stemming from the federal government makes up about $8.7 million and and other sources of revenue generate $5.4 million.

The majority of the increases come from a $6.4 million rise in salaries and benefits spending, according to the district’s budget presentation and report. The budget’s line items include salary increases of 3.3 percent and 2.8 percent total for teachers from Kindergarten-sixth grade and grades 7-12, respectively.

Teachers assistants in the latter group are being cut by 11 percent, though, to $527K in total spending as a result of removing COVID-era budget items—sure to be a sticking point for teachers, who have often asked the district for more support staff. The district is also clearly emphasizing professional development opportunities this year, with $526,450 dedicated to sustainability mentor stipends at each building and professional development opportunities related to the district’s Learning Forward initiative, which is another source of some frustration for teachers.

Additionally, more money appears to be flowing into funding for programming for students with disabilities, as $1.6 million more is being allocated towards those needs. That is fueled in large part by a significant increase in spending on teacher aides, from $2.9 million to $3.5 million, as well as increased funding for therapists. The district also appears to be relying less on outside contracts and more on staffing, at least to a certain extent, as that note is made a few times throughout the budget.

Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown’s salary will contractually increase from $249,501 to $269,343 for the year.

Maintaining its recent trend of silence, the Ithaca City School District did not respond to requests for further information and comment from The Ithaca Voice made last week, or for an interview with CFO Amanda Verba regarding the 2023-2024 budget and its differences from 2022-2023. Brown did appear on WHCU to discuss the budget last week.

“By all metrics, local, national and state metrics of how we budget and what we should do to provide access and opportunities for our young people in this community, I think we have met the mark,” Brown said during last week’s budget hearing. Nobody attended the budget hearing in-person, though one person submitted a question online asking for district officials to justify the “lower salaries that ICSD teachers receive compared to surrounding and similar districts.”

Brown answered that teacher salaries are collectively bargained and insisted that ICSD’s salaries are competitive with other districts. He added the question was “leading” and based on “incorrect information.”

ICSD Board of Education chair Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell said that long-time teachers in the district are not being compensated enough and that is something the district has to improve, but otherwise he defended the current pay scale and schedule of teachers in ICSD, as did fellow board member Moira Lang.

Brown also touted the virtue of Proposition 2, the capital fund portion of the annual Board of Education elections. This year, the fund is slated for $2.75 million from the district for the purpose of: new electric panel to power four bus chargers and other electric bus infrastructure, buying as many as five electric buses, buying up to three low-emission propane buses and up to six passenger vehicles for student transportation and other programming.

Without any other questions at the hearing and in the absence of further comment from the district, one can look at Verba’s presentation before the Board of Education in late March for any deeper discussion of the proposed budget.

Board members were primarily receptive of the proposed budget, though Dr. Jill Tripp did raise a question based on experiences she had with the City of Ithaca’s Department of Public Works budget in the past, about asking building and department leaders to compose budgets that don’t include any increases in the years ahead, so that the board and public could see the actual programming loss that would represent—while also helping the district potentially make some decisions about reducing its annual budget increases. Her comments followed Christopher Malcolm’s statements which were relatively similar, about trying to find other ways to generate revenue other than taxes, like more aggressively pursuing state money.

“I would like us to identify things in here that are of lower priority,” Tripp said. “I think harder times are coming. And many, many people in this city are at the breaking point. I hear what [Christopher Malcolm] says and I agree about finding better state funding and other sources. But a lot of people have had it. If you look at this compared to an austerity budget, this looks pretty good. I feel like we’re close to the position in some of these areas, after looking at them carefully, of throwing money at a problem without looking at whether or not the money is going to cover the problem.”

It doesn’t appear any of those priorities were eventually categorized as low or high. Tripp’s sentiment was pushed back upon by fellow board member Eldred Harris, who said that the district is operating efficiently and has been for several years.

“Every year, I know we’ve asked our leadership to go to buildings, and they spend quite a bit of time narrowing down the answer to the question you asked, ‘What is essential, what’s necessary, what’s desired?'” Harris said, mentioning the tax rate decreases though he acknowledged that the tax bills have still been rising each year. “We’ve done our job, we’ve held our line, and can always do better. But it would be useful to have new members of the board see that, so they can see how fiscally responsible we have tried to be, by asking the people who have the budgetary power, and they have been coming back with some miraculously efficient things, some really good ideas, using community partners more, consolidating efforts.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief at The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at