Administration Presents Revised School Budget for 2017-18
- Published on Tuesday, 14 March 2017 15:19
- Joanne Wallenstein
A revised school budget proposal for 2017-18 was presented to the Scarsdale School Board on Monday night 3-12, and will come in at less than a 1% increase in the tax levy over the prior year. The budget includes $1.699 mm in reserve funds from the 2016-17 budget to bring in a total 2017-18 budget of $153,690,765. This is a budget-to-budget increase of 2.15% or $3.236 million, but the use of reserves softens the impact on taxpayers. Though the budget represents a .96% increase in the tax levy, application of the equalization rate will increase Scarsdale taxpayers school taxes by 2.76% and decrease taxes for those in the Mamaroneck strip by 8.40%. See the chart below.
To deliver this budget, Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey trimmed $620,000 in expenses from the budget proposed on March 6 in response to questions from board members.
The district finds itself in the enviable position of being able to add teachers and staffing will now be back up to 2008-9 levels. The budget includes 8.4 more full time employees, bringing the total teaching staff to 457 up from 446 in 2009-10. These include 2.5 reading teachers for the elementary schools, added staffing for Special Education, a STEAM coordinator, one additional elementary school teacher and 2 unassigned teachers to respond to shifts in enrollment. Total district enrollment for 2017-18 and expected to decrease by just two students going from 4,779 students in 2016-17 to 4,777 students in 2017-18.
Dr. Hagerman noted that the school budget has been under the NYS tax cap since it was implemented – and indicated that the administration would continue to make this a goal unless it required compromises to the educational program. Mattey noted that the district has become more cost efficient with cooperative purchasing, competitive bidding, self funded insurance, employee recruitment practices and technological efficiencies. A few low enrollment classes have been combined and the school principals have been asked to look for ways they might save money.
The new budget does not include $70,000 in funds to paint the Greenacres School as work will be put off until the district makes a decision on what will be done at the school. Also cut from this version of the budget were the following:
One additional full time elementary school teacher at $110,000. The district is unsure of enrollment will warrant another section and there is already one additional teacher and two contingent positions included in the budget.
The district is working on a continuous project to remove worn floor tiles that contain asbestos. That budget for the coming year was reduced from $225,000 to $125,000. Mattey says the floors are safe but that it's a long-term goal to get rid of all the asbestos tile.
The exterior stairs from Hampton Road to the Fox Meadow School will be repaired – but the district will put off improving the staircase to the field at a savings of $85,000.
Health insurance costs are trending lower this year and therefore the line item was cut by$65,000.
Funds for renovations to the bathrooms at the middle school were reduced from $125,000 to $60,000 which will allow some, but not all of the work to be done.
The technology budget reduced by $30,000
The general carpentry reduced by $30,000
The sustainability budget which was at $60,000 was cut to $30,000
The budget for security improvements, which was originally at $100,000 was reduced by $25,000 to $75,000. Mattey said security improvements would be recommended by consultants and that these were optional opportunities for improvement based on priorities.
The total reductions from the prior week were $610,000.
The board discussed the appropriate level of reserves for tax certioraris in light of recent news that Fenway Golf Course had won a settlement with the Village to reduce their assessment from $13.4 million in 2011 to $7.2 million in 2017. Both the school and the village will need to issue substantial tax refunds to the club. The School Board discussed the need for improved communications with the Village Board so that they would have more upfront information about potential settlements. (Note that the proposed 2015-16 school budget showed that $118,387 had been refunded to Fenway in 2008-9.
Effect of the Equalization Rate
More discussion ensued about the equalization rate. The state has assigned Scarsdale a .89 equalization rate, indicating that the New York Office of Real Property Tax Services (ORPTS) has calculated that the total value of Scarsdale's real estate is assessed at 11% below market. Applying this equalization rate to the school budget will mean a tax rate increase for Scarsdale residents of 2.76% while school taxes for those in the Mamaroneck strip will actually decrease by 8.4%. According to the budget document, "The equalization rate, as issued by NYS for the Town of Scarsdale, has decreased to below 100% causing a shift in each Town's share of the total levy and thus impacting each Town's projected tax rate. These estimated tax rates are based on a projection of final assessments.
In comments after the presentation, Board members were generally pleased with the results. Nina Cannon said, "Stuart, You have created a fiscally prudent budget that accomplishes what you hoped to do. We'll see a tremendous return on our investments." Bill Natbony said, "I like where we are on capital improvements and the percentage increase. I like the flexibility we have in terms of staffing and enrollment. I like the flexibility we have to use budget transfers." Chris Morin said, "There is a tremondous investment in teaching and a 1% tax increase." Pam Fuehrer expressed reservations about taking funds out of the budget for the middle school bathroom renovations and asbetos abatement. The Board considered putting these funds back in but ultimately decided that if circumstances required flexibility, funds could be taken out of reserves.
Mattey also provided a timeline for providing the Board with a long-term financial plan for the district. He said the 2017-18 budget will provide the groundwork for looking ahead and said that a long-term plan would be presented in the fall of 2017 after the district finalizes their facilities plans.