The Scarsdale School administration put forth their preliminary budget for 2013-14, and the picture's not pretty. If these numbers hold, Scarsdale taxpayers could see the highest tax increase in years, with the current projection at almost 7%. To put that figure in perspective, in 2012-13, taxes rose 3.39% for Scarsdale residents, about half of the projected increase for the coming year.
The administration's 2013-14 budget calls for a 4.52% budget increase over 2012-13 and a tax increase of 6.88%. The proposed increases are driven by a 37% increase in mandated payments to the NYS pension and teacher's retirement fund as well as a reduction in the amount of surplus that will be applied to the 2013-14 budget.
The budget is now projected to climb from $141,790,570 in 2012-13 to $148,201,813 in 2013-14. 56.9% of that increase is due to the district's increased payment to the Teacher Retirement System and Employee Retirement System mandated by New York State. In addition, another 16.1% of the increase is due to higher costs for the health care plan.
In previous years, the Board used surplus funds to temper these increases. For the 2012-13 budget, $6,313,598 of surplus was applied to the budget. However, last year the board made a policy decision to reduce reliance on surplus funds in the future. Therefore, the 2013-14 budget includes $4,000,000 in surplus. Also under discussion is the use of another $500,000 in surplus funds to cover an even greater contribution to the Teacher Retirement System that the district only learned about on February 1.
The budget is not without some new additions, and here are a few that were discussed at the February 4, 2013 Board of Education meeting.
Due to a large incoming freshman class at Scarsdale High School, enrollment at the high school is projected to increase by 89 students, from 1,453 to 1,542 students. To accommodate the larger student body, three new high school teachers will be needed to teach English, Social Studies and Science. However, enrollment at the elementary schools is expected to decrease by 15 students, and the student population in grades 6 through 8 is expected to go down by 32 students. At the middle school, the district proposes hiring a language instructor to teach Mandarin so that the Mandarin program now at the high school can be extended into the lower grades.
In addition to the three new teachers, the administration is proposing to hire four new technology staffers to assist with the school's growing use of technology and computers in all of the district's schools. Another new staff member is proposed for the central administration where $89,000 has been added to the budget to hire a communications officer to handle the district's website, social media and media engagement.
In response to the shootings at Newtown, parents have called for heightened security at district schools. Under consideration for 2013-14 are new locks on all classroom doors that will allow teachers to lock the doors from the inside of the classroom. At Greenacres Elementary School, the office will be moved so that it is located next to the entrance to the school, allowing school personnel to monitor visitors to the school. Also recommended are the addition of official greeters at the five elementary schools and at the middle school. At the high school, where there are many entrances, three greeters would be added to the staff.
In order to pass a budget that exceeds the 2% NYS tax cap, the community would need to pass the budget by a supermajority of 60%. Since the state allows the district to exclude certain cost increases from the cap, after taking away these allowables, the tax cap for Scarsdale would be an increase above 3.6%.
Also under discussion at the meeting were renovations to the high school. In last year's budget, $350,000 was approved to renovate the high school's fitness center, an item that has been considered since 2008. However, after the Board requested a long-range plan for future needs and the Scarsdale Education for Tomorrow, administrators called in architect Peter Gisolfi this summer. Gisolfi worked with physical education and athletics' staff on a plan to relocate the fitness center and build a wellness center underneath the gym. This space is larger and more open and the architects felt it would better accommodate the school's educational needs. It is in closer proximity to the locker rooms, the gym and the outdoors and they suggested it would be easier to supervise than the existing fitness center.
According to Linda Purvis, the renovation of the existing fitness center would be limited by the "c-shaped configuration of the space" and the presence of stairwells and supporting walls that would make it difficult to design a large open space. However, since the space underneath the gymnasium is currently unfinished, it would require extensive renovation including the addition of wiring, heating and ventilation. The total tab for the new fitness center and glass classroom is estimated at $1,200,000 rather than the original $350,000.
To pay for it, the administration proposes to use the $350,000 from this year's budget as well as funds that were allocated to transform the existing auto body shop into a satellite cafeteria.
So now the Board of Education will need to decide whether or not they want to spend $1.2 million on the Wellness Center and will also need to come up with solutions for cafeteria services for the expanded student body that is expected at SHS next year.
The Board held a second Budget Study Session on Wednesday night February 6 and plans two more for Monday February 11 and Wednesday February 13, both at 6:30 pm at the Board of Education room at Scarsdale High School.
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