By CHRIS EBERHART
With falling revenues and shrinking state aid anchoring one side of Eastchester’s school budget and rising costs pulling on the other, the Eastchester School district’s budget is a rubber band about to snap.
“This is a budget that reflects the urgency of the difficult times where funding is limited and declining, where expenditures are rising and continued deep cuts in staffing are required to balance the budget,” Walter Moran, superintendent of the Eastchester school district, said.
The proposed $76.9 million school budget for the 2014-2015 school year, which is a $1.92 million increase from the current year’s budget, is in line with the state-mandated 3.21 percent tax levy limit for the district. Moran presented the district’s preliminary budget to the public at the March 11 Board of Education meeting.
In order to stay within the cap, Moran said the school district had to cut $1.35 million, which resulted in staffing cuts equal to seven full-time equivalent teachers, three teaching assistants and 5.2 full-time equivalent support staff positions.
“The reductions in this budget are real. They’re deep. And they’re impactful,” Moran said.
During the Feb. 25 Eastchester Board of Education meeting, Moran identified a key number that illustrates why the district is being stretched so thin: $715,360.
That number is the projected gap elimination adjustment, or the money the district will not receive in 2014-2105 for state aid that it was supposed to.
In other words, it’s the projected state aid minus the actual state aid.
“So I’m not even sure why the state is taking out this money,” Moran said.
Since the 2010-2011 school year, the gap elimination has increased from $562,837 to the projected $715,360 for the 2014-2015 school year; it peaked at $878,133 during the 2011-2012 school year.
In total, over the past five years, the state has withheld $3.76 million from the Eastchester school district, which has translated to cutbacks and layoffs.
“That number is single-handedly responsible for all the school’s layoffs over the past few years,” Moran said, which includes 60 staff positions and services including teachers, assistants, librarians, a guidance counselor, a custodian, two after-school buses and a social worker.
Moran said lack of state aid, coupled with rising state mandates and declining revenue, is creating a problem for this year’s budget.
The superintendent said mandated contributions to the New York State retirement system and healthcare insurance are up 1.25 percent and 4.74 percent, respectively, which equate to a $402,817 and $403,000 increase, respectively.
Moran said Social Security contributions are up $71,328 from last year along with workers’ compensation, which increased by $35,198.
As mandated expenditures are on the rise, revenues are in a free fall. That creates budgetary issues in an age of a tax cap.
Moran said the district is estimated to receive $500,000 less in tuition and have $500,000 less remaining in its fund balance. He said there are also no projected increases in state aid or county sales tax to offset some of the lack of funding.
“That one-two punch has been detrimental,” Vita Catania, an Eastchester school board member, said in reference to the rising mandates and shrinking revenues. “Especially with the increasing gap elimination…It makes my stomach turn.”
Recently, the school district sent a letter to district parents urging them to lobby their state legislators to fight for the state aid that has been pulled out from under the district.
“It’s time to contact our legislators and tell them that the state needs to restore financial aid that has been taken from school districts every year since the 2009-2010 school year,” the district letter states. “The state should not continue to pass along its revenue ‘shortfalls’ to local school districts since there is now a surplus.”
To date, more than 800 letters have been sent out to the state legislators Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat, and George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, according to the school district.
The Board of Education will vote to adopt the budget on April 22. The adopted budget will then go before the public for a vote on May 20.