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White Plains Schools Predict $1 Million Budget Gap

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The White Plains School District announced public schools will have to absorb an approximately $1 million funding gap if the district crafts a budget that abides by the new property tax cap levy at a budget forum Wednesday night.

Superintendent Christopher Clouet said the board of education will be drafting a "budget in unprecedented times" and sought input from the community about which school programs and services were vital and where the district might be able to save money.

"The national economy is in a state of flux. The regional economy is in a difficult situation. And the tax levy cap that has been imposed by the state legislature is a huge change in how we do business as a school district," Clouet told a crowd of close to 25.

Fred Seiler, the district's assistant superintendent for business, explained that the property tax cap limits increases in the total amount of money schools gather from taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

Although the state hasn't released the rate of inflation yet, Seiler said it is expected to be about 2 percent, which would limit the school budget to about $189,200,000 given current state and federal aid estimates. The district anticipates being able to exclude debt from capital projects and increases in pension costs greater than 2 percent from cap calculations.

"With no changes in programs, per say, we're coming in at about $190,200,000," Seiler said of projected expenses for 2012 to 2013. "We potentially have a gap of about $1 million."

The district could pass a budget that ignores the property tax cap if it is approved by 60 percent of White Plains voters on May 15. If the budge fails, the district can try again or draft a second budget to offer voters on June 19. The district would be limited to a zero percent levy increase if both votes fail.

Some attendees, including Michael Stanton, urged the district not to assume voters wouldn't support the budget unless it subscribed to the tax cap.

"One million dollars is $47 per household in the city and that item alone is not huge to ask," said Stanton, who has two kids at Post Road Elementary School.

After cutting 10 percent of staff during the past few budgets, Clouet said significantly reducing employees wasn't a viable option.

Parents expressed concerns about cutting sports, arts, and music classes and programs. However, some suggested looking at eliminating language courses with low enrollment, reworking the busing system to consolidate buses, or heating schools to slightly lower temperatures to save money.

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