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Preview Given for Chappaqua's 2014-15 Budget

Preview includes a "rollover" scenario, which was described as a "placeholder." Formal proposal scheduled for Feb. 26 presentation.

The Chappaqua school board at its Jan. 15, 2014 meeting.
The Chappaqua school board at its Jan. 15, 2014 meeting.
Rising costs continue to be an issue for Chappaqua school officials, who went through a preview for the 2014-15 budget at a Wednesday school board meeting.

John Chow, the school district's assistant superintendent for business, went through what is called a "rollover" budget, a hypothetical scenario in which there are no cuts to personnel or programs. The rollover budget is not an actual proposal, Chow noted, but rather it is a "placeholder." In this scenario, costs for 2014-15 would rise by $2,873,560, or 2.5 percent from the 2013-14 school year. This would include a property tax levy increase of $3,098,560, or 3.01 percent, coupled with $2,500,000 in fund balance use.

The district faces a rise in state-mandated pension contribution costs for the Teachers' Retirement System (TRS). Chow explained that while the number is not known yet, there is a range for what the contribution rate increase will be. It is anticipated that the TRS rate will rise from 16.25 percent to between 17.25 and 17.75 percent. The rate for the other major state pension fund, the Employee Retirement System (ERS), is already known, according to Chow. It will drop from 20.9 percent to 20.1 percent. The difference in trends between TRS and ERS is attributable to different investment portfolios, Chow explained in an interview after the meeting.

The health insurance premium increase is already known and will be 1.5 percent, which Chow called a “very, very good number.”

The intention is to stay within the state-mandated cap for increasing the tax levy, which is the lesser or two percent or the rate of inflation. Chow did not have the figure available on Wednesday because it was not yet released. On Friday, he confirmed that the number will be 1.46 percent, a figure that was posted on the website of the state comptroller. 

The tax cap, which limits how much additional tax revenue can be raised from the previous budget, also allows for some exemptions, such as growth in the local tax base and some pension costs.

A significant unknown factor is how much state aid the district will receive, according to Chow. This will be known when Gov. Andrew Cuomo presents his proposed budget on Jan. 21, Chow explained.

Other unknown factors include tax certiorari settlements and the assessed tax value for the area.

The goal of staying within the cap means that tough choices could be made. The overall figure to cut could be about $1 million, according to what Chow explained to the board.

A cut in personnel has also not been ruled out. More than 100 positions have been cut in the past five years, explained Superintendent Lyn McKay. Cutting would correspond to enrollment, Chow noted in response to a question from school board Vice President Karen Visser.

The district's projected enrollment is for a decrease of approximately 13 students at the elementary school level, a 60-student decrease at the middle school level and a 46-student increase at the high school level. Overall enrollment is predicted to decline by 27 students. Although Chappaqua's enrollment for the current school year was notably off, Chow defended the accuracy for older grades while acknowledging the difficulty of predicating for kindergarten.

Elective course selection for Horace Greeley High School, specifically switching, was also acknowledged to be an issue within the context of the tax cap. The confirmation came when there was discussion among officials about a change to one of the district's operating standards, which states, "Maintain breadth and depth of core course offerings and extra-curricular activities to the greatest extent possible in light of tax cap realities."

McKay called the tax cap a “reality” and noted finding space to stay under it.

School board member Victoria Tipp described the district's situation in a broader context. She felt that there is a “structural problem” with the financing of education. Additionally, Tipp believes that there is no one who is advocating for students. She also addressed the fact that there is little control locally, alluding to the issue of what the state mandates. Requirements from the state government, such as pension contributions, have been blamed by local officials for budgetary issues in recent years.

Chow's presentation also included key dates for the budget process. On Feb. 26, McKay will present a proposed budget to the school board, which will then hold several meetings relating to topics for it. The board will adopt a budget on April 23, which will be subject to a referendum on May 20. 

Chow's budget presentation is located on the school district's website.

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