EducationThe Examiner

Chappaqua Schools Proposes Nearly $134M Budget for 2022-23

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Chappaqua Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman last week proposed a nearly $134 million budget for 2022-23 that just makes it under the tax cap despite sharp increases in health insurance premiums and special education costs.

The proposed $133,963,411 spending plan also anticipates higher costs in areas that are affected by inflation, such as transportation.

Despite the challenges, Ackerman said the budget addresses the students’ needs and follows the district’s requirements for class size.

“We feel like our budget responds to our strategic questions and our target areas and our coherence plan and our operating standards,” Ackerman said. “It supports our students both academically and emotionally. It maintains our funding for equity work and adheres to our class-size ratios.”

As proposed, the budget would call for a $3.5 million spending hike and a $3,173,211 increase in next year’s tax levy, or 2.79 percent, the highest allowable figure while remaining within the cap. The projected tax rate change is expected to be unveiled at the Board of Education’s Mar. 23 meeting.

Key drivers include the anticipated 8 percent jump in health insurance costs, which originally had been projected to be at about 6 percent, said Superintendent for Business Andrew Lennon. Costs associated with the district’s portion of the Teachers Retirement System will rise by about 10.3 percent but contributions will fall more than 11 percent for the Employees Retirement System, he said.

As a result, expenses for benefits will rise by $908,000 next year, a 3.2 percent increase while salaries will see a modest 0.3 percent jump, or about $207,000.

Costs for special education are expected to increase $736,760, a 17.5 percent clip. Ackerman said that 33 special education students transferred into the district for the current year, nearly three times as many as the year before.

“We had an influx of students move into the district for a whole variety of reasons,” Ackerman said. “Because we had been able to be open during the initial start of the pandemic, I feel like we were in a place where many families chose to move to our district over the summer last year, which was unique maybe with past experiences we’ve had the opportunity to learn from.”

There was also an increase this year to 26 English Language Learners who transferred to Chappaqua, up from 15 in 2020-21, adding further to costs.

Lennon said the district expects a state aid increase of about $334,000, or 3.28 percent next year. An increase of about $290,000 in sales tax revenue is also anticipated, he said.

The district is planning to use $3.5 million from fund balance next year, a slight decrease of about $42,000 from 2021-22.

The current enrollment projection for next year is 3,494, a year-to-year decrease of 65 students.

Ackerman said there will be one less kindergarten and fourth-grade section each at Grafflin and Roaring Brook elementary schools compared to this year. At Westorchard Elementary School, four second-grade sections are projected for next year compared to three currently, while the number of third-grade sections will decrease from five to three.

There will also be two fewer sections at each of the two middle schools while no changes are currently expected at the high school.

Sections would be added for any grade should there be an influx of students between now and the end of summer, Ackerman said.

With the Chappaqua School District bumping up against the tax cap, district officials are considering a facilities bond either next fall or in spring 2023 to pay for needed repairs, Ackerman said.

Work could include roof replacement at Roaring Brook and Grafflin elementary schools and at the high school, fiber optic wiring at the high school, a backup internet connection at Seven Bridges Middle School and outdoor elementary school classrooms, among other potential improvements.

The district may also examine making improvements to the front entrance at Horace Greeley High School.

Ackerman said the levy limit prevents the district from including many infrastructure upgrades in the annual operating budget. The district expects to transfer $600,000 to the capital projects budget to complete roof repair work at Westorchard Elementary School.

Over the next month, the Board of Education will be reviewing the proposed budget, starting on Mar. 15 with curriculum, technology, special education and athletics. The following week operations and maintenance and the non-instructional budget will be discussed.

On Mar. 28, there will be a virtual PTA budget forum at 6 p.m. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget on Apr. 6, while the public gets its chance to vote on it on May 17.

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