In the first public budget-focused discussion of the school year, Pleasantville's Board of Education discussed what the 2013-14 expenditures and revenues may look like if nothing is changed year-over-year.
"This is a starting point to talk about it," said Board of Education President Lois Winkler during the January 22 work session.
With significant increases in costs for Employee Retirement System (ERS) Teachers Retirement System (TRS) figures, as well as a state-mandated "tax cap" to contend with, Vice President Shane McGaffey said, "This is only my third budget cycle, but I have to say in terms of looking at the numbers this time around, to me they seem much more daunting than they have in the past in terms of what we have to deal with."
Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter pointed out Assistant Superintendent for Business David Quattrocchi "has been meeting with everyone who has a budget," while the district's finance committee has been holding meetings as well.
"I would add about the finance committee is it's not necessarily a forum to make recommendations to the board as to what we are going to spend or not spend this year, but to develop some positions about long term planning and where the stress points are..." Trustee Larry Boes pointed out.
Board members said that while their complaints about rising mandated costs partnered with a tax cap often fall on deaf ears in Albany. They encouraged community members to be a vocal part of the reform process this year.
"It's frustrating—a lot of these cost drivers are out of control and I don't know that there's necessarily something that we can do about it," McGaffey said.
Warned Boes, "You can't wait until May 7 and complain about what we put forward as a budget. If you want to have input, please come to the meetings, please come up to the podium, please speak, please send us emails, please send our representatives emails, please participate, please answer our emails...please read the information that we are sending out.
"Everybody has a responsibility and frankly, when it just becomes school boards talking, it becomes almost white noise for our legislators, because they don't believe that they really have to listen to school boards because...as communities we have never taken strong enough positions collectively to insist on legislators listening to us...Everybody's got to be a participant."
McGaffey added with a meshing of increased mandated costs and the tax cap, "...chances are taxes are going to continue to go up and services are going to be cut at the same time. People are going to be paying more for less."
As a starting point, Boes suggested the board use its new email distribution list to share a "quick survey" with the community asking about whether looking for a 60 percent majority vote to exceed the tax cap should be considered.
Quattrocchi explained to the board that approximately $400,000 worth of TRS payments (roughly half) are exempt from the cap—"The 2 percent is not 2 percent," he said.
"It excludes from the cap because the change in the rate that's being charged for teacher retirement is in excess of 2 percent," he clarified.
Just looking at TRS, ERS and teacher contractual payments triggered by the Triborough Amendment, Quattrocchi estimated $1.2 million additional costs to the district in 2013-14, approximately a 2.73 percent budget-to-budget increase.
On the flip side, he also projected a decrease in state aid of approximately $130,000. Another source of revenue for the district, student tuition, is also expected to decrease, Quattrocchi said. He said the district projects "up to 12" Pocantico Hills students will be exiting this year, with just five or six coming on board in the coming year.
"Then we come down to the use of fund balance," Quattrocchi stated.
As the district continues to shape up its preliminary budget for the coming academic year, Quattrocchi said he will begin incorporating projected numbers in the near future.
Fox-Alter said there will be "more budget meetings" in the coming weeks.