PELHAM – The Pelham Union Free School District proposed dipping into its reserves and cutting teaching and staff positions to fund a $68.1 million budget, at a tax levy increase of 3.97 percent for the 2013-14 school year.
“How do we do all this and yet keep the increase at a level the voters will feel they can afford to pay, while still maintaining the quality of the program?” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson, who outlined the preliminary budget at a meeting of the Pelham Board of Education Monday night.
The board is looking to finalize a budget proposal for next year and a community vote on May 21.
The 3.97 percent tax levy increase places Pelham below the estimated 4.18 percent state tax cap on Pelham schools. The preliminary budget is 68,188,198, representing a 4.6 percent increase from the 2012-2013 approved budget of $65,560,607.
Wilson said the budget is driven by more than $3.5 million in state mandates. These requirements include a 37.2 percent increase in the teachers’ retirement pension rate totaling $1.3 million, a 10.6 percent increase in the employees’ retirement pension rate totaling $120,000, a 7.7 percent increase to health benefit costs totaling $500,000, a $50,000 new evaluation system, and contractual salary increases totaling around $1.6 million.
To offset costs and to keep the tax levy below the state cap, the budget proposes replacing four and a half retiring veteran faculty with two less-costly newly hired teachers. Two retiring teaching assistants will be replaced by less costly monitors.
The budget also proposes reducing a school psychologist position, cutting a full-time special education teacher and teaching assistant as well as reducing two sections of kindergarten based on enrollment projections. Two contingent positions are included in the budget in case projects are wrong, said Wilson.
In addition to cutting teaching and staff positions, Wilson proposed dipping into the district’s reserve, for a total of $3.25 million or 4.77 percent of all revenues.
“This is an appropriate time to draw on reserves. Why not? If not now whenever would you?” said Wilson. He later added, “We’ve tried to be frugal we’ve tried not to spend money where it’s necessary. We think appropriately applying money from our reserves money will help save on tax increases.”
A full-time athletic director position will be restored, as will membership in BEPT summer school. A $150,000 placeholder for additional investment in safety staff and infrastructure has been put into place as a rough estimate of recommendations that may result from the district’s security audit currently underway.
On Saturday, the Board of Education will conduct its line-by-line review of the budget from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The draft budget is available online and copies will be available at the Saturday review session.
There will be budget workshops on the following Mondays at 8 p.m, March 11 and 18, and April 1 and 8. The board plans to adopt the district budget at its meeting on April 23 and a state-mandated budget hearing will be held on May 7 before the May 21 community vote.
All meetings will take place at Alumni Hall, opposite the main gym of the high school on the ground level, 575 Colonial Ave., Pelham.