According to Linda Purvis, Assistant Superintendent of the Scarsdale Schools, the tax cap will force local school districts to make some “difficult and grim decisions.” And a look at the numbers she presented at a November 19, 2011 Board of Education meeting shows that complying with this new provision could cut deep into the educational program and undermine some basic tenets of a Scarsdale education, including small class sizes, rich academic and emotional support for students, as well as extracurricular activities and sports that give depth to the student experience.
From reader comments on Scarsdale10583.com it is evident that there are widespread misunderstandings about what the Board can do to cut expenses. Many point to high teacher salaries and benefits. However, the teacher contract is not up for renegotiation until next year and the tax cap has been imposed for the coming year, leaving the Board of Education with an “expense gap.”
Though the state has imposed the cap, they have not offered any mandate relief, and the district’s contribution to the employee retirement system and teacher retirement system will grow dramatically with the 2012-13 budget, both rising 14%. In fact, total mandated expenses for the district are $26 million out of a $134 million budget. These include pensions, benefits and a $12.5 million special education budget that is non-negotiable.
According to Purvis’ most up-to-date estimates in 2012-13 the school district would need to increase the budget by $11 million to maintain the educational program now in place. Under the cap, the district would only be able to raise an additional $2,500,000 over the 2010-12 budget necessitating $8.5 million in cuts.
Here is a preliminary list of what might go if voters don’t elect to override the cap:
- Extracurricular activities including sports and the arts: $1.6 million
- Community services including the Teen Center, youth outreach program, use of public buildings for sports and other activities: $350,000
- All non-essential building maintenance including painting and floors: $250,000
- All technology investment and cable television: $350,000
- 12 service support positions: $900,000
- 35 classroom aides: $500,000
- 42 professional positions (teachers, librarians, elementary language teachers): $4.2 million
- Consolidation of bus routes, leaving children on longer bus rides: $200,000
Voters can approve a budget that exceeds the cap with a super majority vote of 60%, and in prior years the community has approved the school budget with over 70% saying yes. Clearly economic woes have worsened, but if the past is any indicator of the future, an overriding majority of Scarsdale residents value the public schools and will come out to support the district at this critical juncture. Last year when the Board proposed a very modest relaxation of the class size provision for elementary school students there was a loud public outcry. With the prospect of firing 42 professionals, class sizes would clearly go up, a pill that many district parents are not willing to swallow.
The school district has scheduled two community forums in January to garner your feedback – the first will be on the night of January 11, 2012 and the second on the morning of January 18, 2012. Mark your calendars so that you can participate at those sessions and please do submit your comments below to start the discussion.
Question: What do you think? Should the Scarsdale Board of Education submit a budget that complies with the 2% cap or maintain the current educational program and ask the community to vote to override the cap?