Chappaqua school officials face a big challenge coming up, as more than $1.3 million in cuts will be needed in order for the district to come in under the tax levy cap for its 2012-13 budget, making more job cuts likely
While a proposed budget will not be presented until Feb. 28, Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow gave numbers for the district's major costs at Tuesday's school board meeting. If the district were to try and maintain current programs and services, it would cost $2,767,640, or 2.48 percent more than this year. That number was actually revised downward from an older projection of $3,591,849, or 3.32 percent, because of a lower than expected health insurance premium increase (3 percent) and because the teachers' pension fund contribution rate is expected to come in at a lower increase than thought. The pension figure is anticipated to increase to a range between 11.5 to 12.5 percent. Chow expects that it will come in somewhere in between.
The fiscal problem, however, is that the 2.48-percent spending hike is too much in order for the district to stay underneath the tax levy cap, which is technically the lesser of 2 percent or the rate of inflation. For his projection, Chow assumes that inflation will allow for the 2-percent level, and then calculates exemptions, such as the change to the district's property tax base (a "growth factor" of 1.0055), capital costs and a portion of the pension costs. This means that the district can, based on projections, increase its levy by up to $2,432,448, or 2.46 percent from the 2011-12 tax levy (from $99,994,582 to $101,377,030).
With the tax cap, the district can only increase its spending by up to 1.28 percent, or $1,431,448 from this year's budget, leaving the shortfall of $1,336,192. The projections Chow presented assume spending $3 million in reserves.
Chow acknowledged that reductions in jobs will be needed in order for this to happen. When school board Vice President Jeffrey Mester asked Chow what can be done to keep within the cap without job cuts, he replied that it would involve using all of the available fund balance reserves and other cuts.
Chow and Superintendent Lyn McKay told the board that they don't intend to propose overriding the tax cap, which would require the approval of 60 percent of voters during the annual May budget referendum.
At minimum, the district will likely cut jobs at the middle school level next year to allow for fewer but longer periods. McKay said that some retirements may take place. Savings could come from a reduction of five FTE, although the district may have to add two teachers due to a projected enrollment increase for , Chow explained.
“We’re working very hard on that," he said about personnel change plans.
Since the economy took a dive, it has been a tough four years for the district in the way of job cuts. Since the 2008-09 budget, a total of 77.22 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs have been axed. In an interview, Chow was asked to give an anticipated range for cuts, something that was known at this point last year. However, factors such as the cap make it harder for the district to anticipate, he explained.
Board members brought up the perennial topic of balancing fiscal responsibility while maintaining the quality of education.
“What do we value that we’re going to lose?” asked board member Victoria Tipp.
Members of the audience expressed concern over benefits and employee costs, which are projected to make up the biggest increases if the district were to maintain current program levels (roughly $1.4 million and $1.5 million, respectively).
Jeff Mulholland argued that the state's pensions are not being adequately funded and was concerned that the fiscal situation will hurt newer teachers due to tenure mandated more senior faculty getting preference in the event of job cuts.
Betty Weitz asked for savings with a reduction in administrative personnel, specifically asking the district if it would be possible to reduce the number of assistant principals. She also called for the district to consider closing one of the middle schools and having the remaining building host grades 6-8, with 5th graders moved back to the elementary school level where they were before the 2003 opening of Seven Bridges. Chow responded by telling Weitz that a 6-8 middle school would be overcrowded, and it was also noted that there is not enough room in the elementary schools, because unlike 2003 full-day kindergarten is now offered.
Going forward, the big dates for residents to watch are McKay's Feb. 28 unveiling of the rough budget proposal, followed by a series of category specific presentations in March. On April 10, the school board will adopt a budget to place on the ballot, with the vote on May 15.