The proposed 2012-13 Chappaqua school budget that voters will decide on in May looks much like more than a month ago.
The school board voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to pass along a budget with the spending increase ($754,400 or 0.68 percent) unchanged from the initial version presented. The tax levy increase of 2.11 percent (an increase of more than $2 million) is also the same amount. The levy, which is the total amount of tax revenue that the district wants for revenue, comes in under the 2-percent property tax cap because it includes exemptions such as capital and pension costs, along with changes to the property tax base.
The impact of the tax rate, which is the amount of tax to be paid per $1,000 of assessed property value, will be quite different among the district's towns. New Castle taxpayers could see an increase of 1.63 percent while residents who live in a northern strip of Mount Pleasant could see a hike of 9.6 percent. The tax rate, unlike the tax levy, is not subject to the cap. For an understanding of why there is a large gap, for our previous story.
Job Cuts Remain, Including Psychologist
The net number of job cuts, 10.44 full-time equivalent (FTE), is also the same.
At the meeting, the school board had no good news for residents who were hoping that a could be avoided. The cut will remain in the proposed budget, which is coming in connection with the retirement of the psychologist at Westorchard Elementary School. The plan unveiled last month will be for the remaining two full-time pyschologists to float between the three elementary schools and for a 0.4 FTE to conduct special education-related evaluations.
Parents reiterated their displeasure in reaction.
Dawn Greenberg was disappointed with the decision. However, she believes that board members came at it with good intentions. She also hopes that administrators will monitor the situation. Her concern centers around making sure that kids who are not in special education also get support from the psychologists in the case of events such as bullying.
"Disappointed," said Karen Bazik, who chairs the PTA's special education committee. She is concerned about the pyschologists getting to know the children and the impact the changes could have on that.
Eric Byrne, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, defended the plan.
While it's not ideal, he explained, he thinks it's a good plan given the challenges that the district faces.
High Costs Continue
As in previous budgets from recent years, this one is being driven by escalating costs, notably a rise in state-mandated contributions to the public employee pension systems. The rise in the contributions is part of a $441,454 increase planned for employee benefits, from $24,382,066 currently to $24,823,520 for next year.
With an interest in sending a message to the state in protest of the mandate, board Vice President Jeffrey Mester suggested spending an additional $50,000 from reserves in place of a $49,342 portion of the pension contribution that is exempted from the tax cap. Fellow board members disagreed with pursuing the idea, either because they supported another approach to lobby for change or because it was felt the reserve funding should be used for something else if needed. For the proposed budget, $3 million in reserves spending is called for.
Voters will get to decide on the budget on May 15, which is also the date when one school board seat is up for election. That seat is held by school board President Alyson Kiesel, who has announced that she is running again. Whether the seat will be contested remains to be seen.
A copy of a presentation with details on the budget is attached as a PDF.