School District: Must Cut $1 Million in Expenses to Stay within 1.5% Tax Levy Cap–Without a Teacher Settlement. The looming $2 Million

WPCNR SCHOOL DAYS. From the White Plains City School District. (With Additional original material in BOLDFACE by John Bailey) January 14, 2014 UPDATED  2 P.M. E.S.T. UPDATED 4:30 P.M. E.S.T.:

The White Plains Board of Education has announced the district’s 2014-15 budget planning process, continuing the successful community-wide forums held last year.

Board President Rosemarie Eller said, “Next year’s budget will be a tremendous challenge, responding to the state-imposed property tax levy cap, which is estimated at an approximate 1.5% increase.  With proposed reductions in Federal aid, plus large increases in health insurance rates and pension costs – totally outside of district control, the district will need to consider about $1 million in budget reductions to remain within the cap.”

WPCNR contacted Fred Seiler, Assistant Superintendent for Business who clarified that the $1 Million in expense cutting was preliminary and that the budget is assuming no settlement of the White Plains Teachers Association contract in the budget at this time.

NEW DETAIL ON THE UNSETTLED SETTLEMENT:

With a possible settlement  the teachers’ union looming in the future, (some day) this means that if the union reaches a settlement with the district, two years of any raises for teachers who have reached the top level of the step increases ( approximately 60% of the 641 teachers (385) would most likely have to be paid retroactively for school years 2012-13 and 2013-14, if not more for 2014-15 possibly meaning further pressure on the budget, meaning more cuts in teaching and personnel staff to stay within the cap. 

With approximately  teachers not having received raises the last two years–with say the average salary at that level of 15 years service being $100,000; a three year settlement of 2% a year just for merit pay retroactive two years and  also covering next year woud cost the  district about $2.5 Million in the 2014-15 budget.

Then it would be back to the negotiating table in 2015-16 This is an estimate. Nevertheless you can see this is a terrific pressure on the district. Failure to negotiate this contract when the tax cap was a higher 2% in retrospect was really a questionable decision on the part of the Board of Education. Now with less wiggle room in the 1.5% cap, the district faces a runaway labor cost. (Heads up, City Hall: The city faces the same problem if the police arbitrator decides on a 2% retroactive raise for the police officers. Retroactivity is not a good thing.)

WPCNR figures the $1 Million in expense cutting is to make up for the loss of levy from the decreased rate of inflation (1.5%). 

If the city assessment roll remains where it is, this would be a good omen. If assessments decline, an even greater tax increase over $10 a thousand would perhaps be needed.

Seiler told WPCNR that the expense cutting depended on state aid and possible savings from retirements. He anticipated the budget not approaching the $200 Million level.  

Currently, the district is figuring on taking all of the levy increase allowed (about $2.5 Million), and making up the difference with a tax rate increase that would move the tax rate up $10 to $592 per $1,000, as predicted on the White Plains Week program of December 27. The budget appears to be currently sitting on approximately $196 Million.  Any settlement, retroactive could bump that up to slightly less than $200 Million. The district needs all the money Governor Andrew Cuomo can print to avoid busting the tax levy cap.

The White Plains Teachers Association and the school district are in the Fact Finding process at this time. Teachers who have not reached the top salary for their longevity and degree statuses, are still receiving their step increases as part of the state Triborough Agreement governing labor pay disputes that are not settled. The teachers rejected two previous contracts with the district. An impasse was declared and they have enterted a fact-finding process. The step increases for about 256 teachers next year are in the  anticipated budget, Seiler said.

.The district is seeking broad input on the budget from the community, at two Budget Forums: on Thursday, January 23rd, and Wednesday, March 19thBoth are in the B-1 Room at White Plains High School, at 7:30 P.M.

Additional meetings will take place in the community and any group or organization wishing to host such a meeting may contact the  Superintendent’s Office at 422-2033.   Discussions have also been held with staff to solicit their input.

All residents are invited to attend these sessions, to participate in focused dialogue on spending efficiencies, areas of concern, budget priorities and creative ways to increase revenues.  A review of the district’s financial situation, the state’s and city’s financial constraints, and other issues relating to development of the budget will be presented.

The district will also hold two Public Hearings:  the first on March 10th, on the Preliminary Proposed Budget, and the second on May 12th, on the Board of Education’s Adopted Proposed Budget. Both hearings will take place at Education House, 5 Homeside Lane, at 7:30 P.M.

Superintendent of Schools Timothy P. Connors said, “We hope to work together with the community to develop a budget that maintains the high quality of education in White Plains and that is fiscally responsible and can be supported by the taxpayers in the May 20th vote.”

The community is encouraged to visit the district’s website, www.whiteplainspublicschools.org for information on the budget.

 

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