The Bedford Central School District could take a big hit if the proposed 2012-13 budget moves forward as proposed.
The preliminary budget, which is $121,628,623, was unveiled at Wednesday's school board meeting by administrators. It represents a spending increase of 2.23 percent, from $118,980,000 for this year.
The budget is the first in which the school district will feel the effects of the new property tax cap, which limits annual tax levy increases to the lesser of the inflation rate of two percent. The latter amount is the limit for the coming year.
Bedford Central's budget calls for a 2.7 percent increase, which is the most that it can ask for, because it includes exemptions such as capital projects funding, a portion of employee pension funding and a change in the overall property tax base's value. The levy is proposed to rise from $105,231,560 for this year, to $108,068,623 for the coming year.
District officials blasted the state government for imposing the cap due to the fact that expensive mandates that it also imposes, such as a mandtory double-digit pension contribution rate increase, are still in effect.
"Just as we were getting pretty good at this, they changed the rules on us," said Superintendent Jere Hochman.
The district will not be asking for voters to override the cap—a 60-percent supermajority is needed for that—although Hochman explained that an override request could be considered in a future budget year.
Driving the costs for the district are the usual factors that are familiar to anyone who has followed recent budget cycles: pension contribution rates are set to rise by double digits, while health care spending is projected to rise anywhere in between the high single digits to low double digits.
Another cost problem for the district is a and subsequent refunds that need to be made by the district. According to Mark Betz, assistant superintendent for business, the district will not have a reserve fund to pay for challenges covering the current school year. Already, $106,000 that is coming from the district's property tax levy has been used to make paybacks. Major tax refund payments that Bedford Central is grappling with include the in Mount Kisco, as well as the
Overall, an increase of $100,000 for tax assessment refund spending is being proposed for the coming budget.
Dozens Could Lose Their Jobs, With More Service Cuts for Students
The coming budget continues on the trend of austerity that the district is becoming used to, but job cuts could be particularly steep, with several dozen called for this time around.
The biggest chunk of those layoffs would come from a transportation overhaul, in which the district plans to outsource all of its busing services. Currently, about 66 percent of busing is done through a contract with Chappaqua Transportation, while 33 percent is done in-house.
, whose contract expires this year, is set to be replaced with Long Island-based Towne Bus Corp. Including layoffs of 37 district employees, Bedford Central is expected to save $4.7 million over five years, dropping its expenses from an estimated $45.9 million if t were to maintain the same proportion of contracted and in-house services, to $41.2 million through complete outsourcing.
Those who would be affected by the busing layoffs came out at the start of the meeting to make their presence known. Mary Lou Cavaliere, president of the CSEA union that represents them, gave a passionate response. She urged the district to conisder retaining the current employees for a 1-year transition period. In an interview, Betz explained that this cannot be done under the proposed contract with Towne.
“It is a difficult recommendation to make, but that is where we are," a sympathetic Hochman announced.
In addition, there is net reduction of 18.4 employees in other departments. They range from 2.9 elective class teachers, to 2 elementary-level gym teachers, to 7.5 teacher aides.
Students may notice a loss of some amenities and services. For example, the budget calls for cutting the amount of clubs for both and , removing a student assistance counselor—this person is provided to the district by an outside group—and a reduction of programs from BOCES.
The district also plans to make other structural changes, including consolidation of elementary school van bus routes in the Bedford Village area, and a goal for reducing energy usage by 10 percent.
Total savings from the non-transportation reorganization cuts number at $2,576,997. The cuts were presented to the public in Level tiers, with "Level I" cuts at $849,600 and "Level II" cuts at $1,727,397.
If voters reject the budget—the district has two chances to get one passed by referendum—then the district will have to adopt a contigency version. In this scenario, the district can not increase its tax levy at all. As a result, the district may need to cut $2,831,443 in additional expenses, moving to what has been dubbed "Level III." They would include 15.4 more jobs—examples include a teacher aid position, two librarian positions and one Cable TV tech—eliminating all field trip funding, and cutting the number of modified level sports.
Going Foward: District Can't Count on Reserves Any More
One way that the district has been able to ease into austerity in recent years is because large amounts of reserves have been used as a fiscal cushion. Under the proposed budget, the district could spend $4.6 million as a revenue source. This represents the third year in a row that the district plans to spend more than $4 million.
The downside for the district, however, is that the tax cap limits its ability to collect revenue, and thus save for future crises.
"We won't be able to go to that well in the future," Hochman said.
The district is facing a major reduction in reserves spending, he explained. The estimate is that just $1.8 million would be spent in 2013-14 and $1.6 million for 2014-15.
"It's pretty much a fork in the road for us," Hochman said about the district's financial situation in the coming year.
To offset planned reductions in reserves, Hochman suggested new ways of raising revenue. They range from asking for more private donations—there is a plan in the works to establish a —underwriting its public access TV unit and seeking to generate some advertising revenue. Hochman also expressed a desire to be able to tap into reserves that are set aside for property tax refunds, which are delineated by school years.
The budget will go through review by the school board, with the public having a chance to comment, before it is put up for a vote on May 15.