New School Bond Vote March 13; Board Aims for Budget Below Tax Cap

Four months to the day the original $20 million school bond was defeated, the Rye City School District will give it another go. The Board of Education approved a resolution at their January 24 meeting that gives residents the opportunity March 13 to decide the fate of a revised $16.35 million bond.

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Published January 26, 2012 7:11 AM
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schoolthumbFour months to the day the original $20 million school bond was defeated, the Rye City School District will give it another go. The Board of Education approved a resolution at their January 24 meeting that gives residents the opportunity March 13 to decide the fate of a revised $16.35 million bond.

 

By Sarah Varney

 

Four months to the day the original $20 million school bond was defeated, the Rye City School District will give it another go. The Board of Education approved a resolution at their January 24 meeting that gives residents the opportunity March 13 to decide the fate of a revised $16.35 million bond.

 

The proposal aims to address overcrowding at the Rye High/Middle School campus, and preserves the addition of the new 12-classroom science addition from the original bond, as well as the reclamation of two general classrooms and the removal of the portables.

 

schoolpicWhile the bond does not include money from the reserve balance to lower the cost of the bond, the District proposed using $2.5 million from reserves to keep the 2012-13 school budget under the 2% tax cap.

 

The preliminary budget calls for $73.6 million, and the projected amount for 2013-2014 is $74.8 million. Of the $2.5 million to be used from the reserve fund, $500,000 will be used for one-time school maintenance costs such as classroom repairs.

 

To stay underneath the tax cap, the plan includes an estimated tax levy increase over five years of 10.3% with a 1.9% increase for this year and an increase of 2% next.

 

Juggling the budget to stay under the cap is a priority for the Board, according to Vice President Ray Schmitt. “We want to make sure that the community knows where the budget and the bond stand in relation to each other. We also want to send a clear signal that this Board will not put forward a budget proposal that exceeds the tax cap.”

 

If a school budget exceeds the tax cap, it requires a 60% in-favor vote to override it.

 

The collision of the tax cap with state-mandated benefits is the main problem, noted the Board’s Karen Belanger. “Fixed costs like salaries and benefits take up 80% of the budget. By the time you take care of these, you’ve already eaten up the 2%.”

 

While the focus on the tax cap is necessary, using reserve funds each year to stay under the cap increase is “crazy”, said Rye resident and former Board member Bob Zahm. “You’re just pushing the tax increase down the road. We need to make cuts now.” Mr. Zahm urged a cut of up to $1 million from the budget in order to decrease the use of reserve funds.

 

Board member Ed Fox said there is no disputing that cuts will need to be made. “The sooner we get started, the better, because the reserve money is going to run out.”

 

“There are cuts to be made and it’s going to be painful for the District, but hopefully not bloody for the kids,” added Board member Josh Nathan. He said, however, that using the reserves now will give the District time to make necessary cuts.

 

Board President Laura Slack seconded Nathan’s thought. “The reserves give us the ability to plan for efficiencies over the next few years.”

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