By ASHLEY HELMS
The Mamaroneck Union Free School District has been crunching numbers and laying the groundwork for the 2014-2015 school budget since November; with preliminary numbers projecting a 4.3 percent property tax hike and the possible elimination of one full-time elementary school teacher as of the Jan. 28 Board of Education meeting.
Early projections show a $4.9 million increase in property taxes, which translates into a 4.3 percent tax rate increase for property owners. The tax levy cap stands at a 1.7 percent increase from the 2013-2014 approved budget; $2.8 million will need to be shaved from the $113 million budget in order to fall under the 1.66 percent tax levy cap before the budget vote on March 18.
These figures may change depending on different issues, including Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s two-year tax freeze initiative proposed in his state budget presentation, Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps said.
If a municipal school district stays under the allowable 1.66 percent tax levy cap, New York State would subsidize the cost of the tax freeze with its projected $2 billion budget surplus. This way, residents within the school district would not experience a property tax increase for the next school budget years.
“It has to be worked out, but that’s generally the idea; rewarding municipalities and districts for staying under the tax cap,” Shaps said.
As he understands it, Shaps said being eligible for the tax freeze could allow for consolidating Board of Cooperative Educational Services initiatives going forward in order to save the district money. The superintendent said the Rye Neck and Mamaroneck school districts are mulling over how to consolidate services in the long term.
Regarding the possible elimination of a teaching position, Shaps said class size enrollm-ents guide teaching positions and the number of sections needed for each elementary school grade every year.
Official enrollment numbers for kindergarten classes won’t become available until the summer and class sizes in all of the elementary grades could change, Shaps said, but the district anticipates smaller class sizes at the elementary level.
Shaps stressed the budget presentation was not official and that figures may change before the budget is subject to a vote.
“All this could change. Until we have hard numbers for kindergarten, we really won’t know, but we know those numbers will change,” Shaps said.
Contributions to the state tea-cher’s retirement system are also in flux, according to Assistant Superintendent for Bus–iness Op-er-ations Meryl Rubinstein. The district is anticipating between 17.2 percent and 17.7 percent of a teacher’s salary will go toward retirement benefits, she said. The current budget model is using the 17.7 percent figure to be safe; the final data won’t be available until the middle of February, Rubinstein said.
Stemming in part from the frigid temperatures this winter, which hovered around 0 degrees on some days, the district is anticipating increases in energy costs by roughly 8.6 percent. School board member Robin Nichinsky asked if, although this winter has been abnormally cold and caused schools to use more energy for heat, the district has to budget for that same energy usage in the next year.
Rubinstein said the district makes assumptions, but it’s difficult because of the unpredictability of the weather and energy costs. She said the district won’t estimate too high of an amount of energy costs for the 2014-2015 school year in case numbers change.
“Even meteorologists can’t tell you what the temperature is going to be like a week from now, so we have to go by some assumptions,” Rubinstein said. “There are increases because of supply and demand right now.”
Going forward over the next several weeks, the district will include additional savings and reductions in expenses coupled with the possible use of fund balance money so the budget will fall under the tax levy cap, Shaps said.
“The goal here is, on March 18, to provide you with a budget that meets our goals and objectives as a school district,” Shaps said. “But is certainly more affordable in terms of the tax levy limit.”