White Plains: Everything Is On The Table For School Budget

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White Plains parents, board of education members and Superintendent Chris Clouet discuss the 2013-14 school budget Thursday night. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Everything is on the table when it comes to getting under the 2 percent tax cap levy for the White Plains City School District, the Board of Education president and superintendent said after the first public budget forum of the year.

“I think we got a lot of good feedback,” board President Rosemarie Eller said. “Everything is on the table, and this is why we have the forums – to get the feedback from the public. It’s all good. It gives us a chance to interact close up and personally and get the ideas.”

With a 2012-13 school year budget of $188.8 million, the 2013-14 revenue cap is $193.6 million. However, the expense trend is projected as $194.85 million leaving a necessary budget reduction of $1.25 million in order to not jump the cap.

Many ideas were tossed around during the forum held Thursday night at White Plains High School, including going over the tax cap, using more part-time workers, having middle school parents pay for bus transportation and using monitors at lunch and recess instead of teacher assistants.

“We have a number of challenges,” said Superintendent Chris Clouet, who added that “the costs involved are huge.” He did not dismiss the potential for teacher cuts to reduce the deficit but said he would minimize that.

More than half of the budget, 50.7 percent, would cover salaries while employee benefits make up 24.5 percent. The remaining categories include debt service (6.2 percent), BOCES service (5.3 percent), transportation (4.8 percent), utilities and repairs (2.8 percent), and other expenses such as textbooks and other supplies (5.7 percent).

The projected employee health insurance increase is $950,000 with a teacher retirement system increase of $2.25 million and teacher salary increase of $1.75 million.

“We’ve been through a lot of budgets, and it’s a challenge,” said Eller. “Funding’s going down, mandates that are unfunded are increasing and we want to give our kids the very best that we can give them. Prepare them for the world. We believe in our kids, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get them to achieve higher and reach higher.”

Eller was confident the board and public would “work it out.”

“We always do and our kids always excel – we’ll make sure,” she said.

The budget must be passed May 21 by a simple majority vote from White Plains residents. If the board chooses to go above the property tax levy cap, that would require a supermajority vote – meaning 60 percent of White Plains voters must approve it.

If it fails, the board may resubmit the original budget or a revised one for a June 18 vote or adopt a contingency budget that has a zero percent tax levy increase from the previous year. If a second vote fails, the board will be forced to adopt a budget with no tax levy increase from 2012-13.

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