2.16% school tax hike proposed

By KATIE HOOS

The City School District of New Rochelle released its preliminary budget for the 2014-2015 school year, preserving all existing programs and staff positions in the district and coming in under the state mandated tax cap.

The preliminary school budget, which falls within the state tax cap and results in a 2.16 percent tax rate increase, aims to maintain all current staff positions within the district as well as support smaller class sizes. File photo

The preliminary school budget, which falls within the state tax cap and results in a 2.16 percent tax rate increase, aims to maintain all current staff positions within the district as well as support smaller class sizes. File photo

On March 6, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Korostoff and Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration John Quinn presented the preliminary budget of $244.5 million—a $5.1 million spending increase over the 2013-2014 budget—before members of the Board of Education.

The preliminary budget stays within the state mandated tax levy cap, coming in at a 1.41 percent increase, and would result in a tax rate increase of 2.16 percent, compared to a 3.73 percent tax rate increase in the current year’s budget.

White creating the preliminary budget, the district took into account feedback from the Community Advisory Committees—community groups created two years ago to review the district’s finances—including the desire to maintain current staffing levels, preserve smaller class sizes, continue current educational programs and improve school security.

Superintendent Korostoff said these factors were important in shaping the budget.

“We believe that this preliminary budget, which the administration would characterize as a ‘maintenance budget,’ is responsive to all of these interests,” he said.

Occupying a combined 75 percent of the preliminary budget’s total expenditures, the district expects to shell out nearly $185 million toward salaries and health benefits alone.

Twenty-five teachers are expected to retire this year and the district will replace these positions to maintain the same number of current total positions.

Additionally, the district will hire five teaching positions in reserve in case class sizes—which the district has limited to a threshold of 25 students per class for grades 1 through 5 and a threshold of 30 for middle school and high school classes—are higher than projected.

“The overriding goal in developing the 2014-2015 budget was to maintain educational services with the primary emphasis on core instruction,” Quinn said.

While all staffing positions are expected to be maintained in 2014-2015, nearly 200 positions have been cut in the last five years.

The district is also required to contribute to staff members’ retirement, accounting for $23.1 million, or 9.5 percent of the 2014-2015 budget. Over the last six years, the mandatory retirement contributions have increased by $15.6 million.

Another expenditure included in the preliminary budget is the effort to increase safety and security within district schools, particularly since the December 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 staff members in a mass shooting. Since then, school districts around the country are focusing on improving building security.

Last year, Vigilant Resources International, a security assessment company, audited district safety procedures and facilities, yielding recommendations to improve school security.

Following the recommendations from the audit, the district has included a total of $260,000 in safety improvements in the 2014-2015 preliminary budget, including keyless entry systems and cameras at the main entrances of the Campus Alternative High School and Albert Leonard and Isaac Young middle schools, window shades, door locks, a student identification system and a visitor management system at New Rochelle High School, chairs to assist with evacuating students and staff with mobility issues, and new P.A. systems at Jefferson and Daniel Webster elementary schools.

“In an era when schools can no longer be viewed as a safe haven, we continue to dedicate funds to provide for the safety and security of our students and staff,” Korostoff said, adding training district security staff is also a budgetary priority.

To counterbalance the anticipated expenditures, the district looks to receive revenue through other sources than property taxes, including $34 million in state aid, which is a $2 million increase over the aid received over the 2013-2014 school year. The state aid will go toward funding district transportation aid, building aid, and BOCES programs.

The district, which has been struggling with a declining fund balance—an accumulated excess of revenue over expenses—over the last five years and was recently deemed under “moderate financial stress” by the New York State Comptroller, has budgeted $950,000 in fund balance use over the year to help with expenses, leaving $3.75 million in the fund balance.

Overall, the preliminary budget tries to fulfill the needs of the community without busting the tax cap.

Resident Anna Giordano said the district is making steps in the right direction, but there are still improvements to be made.

“There are some very positive improvements, but the fact is there’s a 2.16 tax increase even though we are still down 200 positions,” Giordano said. “It’s nothing to jubiliate.”

The Board of Education will adopt its proposed budget on April 1 and a subsequent public hearing will be held May 6. The public will vote on the budget on May 20.

 CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com