By LIZ BUTTON
The superintendent’s proposed budget of $79.4 million for the Rye City School District’s 2014-2015 school year carries a projected shortfall of $3.8 million.
On March 4, Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez presented his initial budget document accompanied by several options for the Board of Education to weigh in order to address the anticipated shortfall.
The district could remain tax cap compliant by using reserves and possibly implementing a utility tax, in order to collect on a tax levy that will increase by $1.13 million from last year.
The district could also override the tax cap without using any reserves, which would mean the tax levy would increase by 7.22 percent.
It could also do a combination of those options.
The utility tax is an idea suggested by the district’s tax cap task force and a revenue tactic the city already uses.
Another option would be to cut the budget by $1.7 million, laying off 17 full-time equivalent staff positions, in addition to using reserves; a scenario the superintendent does not recommend. Teacher salaries and benefits cost about $90,000 to $100,000 per
Board president Laura Slack said she would like to take the option of cutting the entire $1.7 million off the table as well as the 100 percent tax revenue budget that would require an override. The district has made cuts in every budget since 2008 and, while the district does not want to make cuts this year, it may be necessary, according to district officials.
Board of Education member Ed Fox said if the district chooses not to override the tax cap again this year, the gap will just get bigger and bigger with every passing year.
“Even if we cut out a whole amount of people to solve the problem this year, we will be back next year having the same conversation, primarily because state mandates will have continued to increase,” Fox said.
Going into the 2014-2015 school year, the district has no funds available from the 2013-14 school year, according to Superintendent for Business Gabby O’Connor.
The 2014-2015 school year will be the third year school districts have had to comply with the state’s two percent cap legislation on property tax levy increases. Last year, the district cut 27.9 full-time equivalent positions; the most the district has ever cut in a single school budget, in order to realize $2.3 million in savings.
“These have been difficult times for the last couple years,” Alvarez said.
Issues with increasing enrollment also affect the budget.
Enrollment has increased in Rye by 592 students since 2004. Although these are high numbers, there is no exemption as part of the tax cap.
“Enrollment is one of our biggest challenges as we plan for next year’s budget,” O’Connor said.
The budget recommended by Alvarez, which adds four high school teachers, a security guard and a custodian at the high school to account for increasing enrollment, reflects a 1.64 percent property tax levy increase, down from the 4.65 percent increase that came with last year’s $76.7 million budget. The proposed 2014-2015 budget sits right at the state mandated tax levy cap.
This drastic change in the tax levy is due to a change in the calculation of the state’s two percent tax cap as well as rising pension costs.
Teacher pension costs are projected to go up by 9 percent next year. Employee retirement and employee healthcare benefit cost rates were also affected by the change in tax cap calculation and are expected to increase by 2 and 4.75 percent respectively.
In reducing the district’s shortfall, Alvarez suggested cuts such as altering class size; making cuts to the foreign language for elementary schools program; finding cost efficiencies in electives like art, music and technology; eliminating librarians at the elementary schools; making cuts in support services, clerical and custodial services, and teacher’s aides could be made.
“These are not recommended, but [considering cuts] is part of our reality,” Alvarez said. “Some of these are very unpopular, but I think they need to be out there.”