EducationGovernmentThe Examiner

Chappaqua’s $130.4M School Budget Proposed to Go Up to Tax Cap

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Chappaqua Superintendent Dr. Christine Ackerman

For the first time since New York State instituted the tax cap 10 years ago, the Chappaqua School District has proposed a budget that would levy the maximum allowable taxes to balance next year’s spending plan.

The $130,460,188 budget proposed for 2021-22 would increase the levy by $2,270,845, or 2.03 percent, to $113,934,076, said Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow. For the upcoming school year, the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI) is 1.23 percent, but the district is allowed a higher percentage because of assessment growth, he said.

“We were one of the few districts that have never gone to the tax cap,” said Board of Education President Victoria Tipp. “I think a majority of the districts go right to the tax cap every year.”

Chow said that typically about 60 percent of districts in Westchester and Putnam counties reach their tax cap ceiling, sometimes because officials do not want to leave money on the table. However, it has never been Chappaqua’s practice to request unnecessary funds from taxpayers.

For the 2020-21 school year, the district was allowed 3 percent yet held its tax levy increase to 1.19 percent.

“We feel like we should only ask for the money that we need,” Chow said. “But this year we do need that amount.”

Board member Jane Shepardson said the district does not want to relinquish its programs and personnel it has worked hard to build despite a more challenging environment. It can avoid doing that by asking for the full amount while still adhering to the cap.

“It’s not typical for us to go up to the tax cap but right now there’s a reason for having it in terms of maintaining what we have and anticipating what we’re going to need,” Shepardson said.

Spending is proposed to increase by $2,223,020 or 1.73 percent over the current year.

Recommended personnel additions on the instruction side are the director of equity, inclusion and wellness, who was hired during the current year, to address issues of diversity, among other tasks, and an associate director of instructional technology and communications, a position that will be needed as a result of a heavier reliance on technology.

Non-instructional positions that may be added for next year are a full-time office assistant for special education and a .57 payroll assistant, to make that job full-time.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman said class sizes will be maintained within the contract thresholds for the various grades.

The board must also consider a capital project referendum for a Horace Greeley High School gym boiler for $650,000. A steam pipe break between the main building has forced the need for a boiler system for the gym rather than replacing the pipe, Ackerman said.

Despite the expense, the referendum will not impact taxes because it would represent a transfer of money to capital, which requires voter approval.

The Board of Education and administration will be discussing the curriculum, technology, special education and athletic budgets at this Wednesday night’s meeting and will review the operations and maintenance, non-instructional budget, revenues, tentative tax rate and contingencies at the Mar. 24 meeting.

Budget adoption is scheduled for Apr. 14 and the budget vote and school board elections will take place on May 18.

Small Increase in Byram Hills

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jen Lamia has proposed a $95.2 million budget for 2021-22, a 0.75 percent spending increase, or $709,009, over the current year.

The projected increase comes after district spending was flat from 2019-20 to this year.

Lamia said the extra expenses needed to reopen schools full-time for students in grades K-6 during a pandemic put the district under some pressure.

“We have had a year like no other,” she said. “During this past year we have had to use funds we did not anticipate using so that we could create socially distanced classrooms for kindergarten through sixth grade, so we could present the necessary programs and technology with the support of the Board of Education.”

The district’s goal continues to be to present at least as robust a program for today’s kindergartners throughout their school career as graduating high school seniors have had.

The lone proposed staffing increase is an additional second grade teacher to handle this year’s large first-grade enrollment of eight sections.

Information on the tax cap and tax rates will be discussed during an upcoming meeting. This Tuesday, Mar. 16 and next Tuesday, Mar. 23, the board will resume deliberations on the proposed budget. Adoption is scheduled for Apr. 20.

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