Proposed $110M Rye City School Budget to Override Cap For First Time in 9 Years

Byrne, who has steered Rye schools since 2017, has ushered in school budgets that were all cap-compliant – but said he knew this day was coming.  

Published February 8, 2024 5:55 PM
4 min read

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For the first time in nearly a decade, the Rye City schools superintendent is looking to override the state’s property tax cap, proposing a budget that would be more than $3 million over the mandated threshold. 

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric Byrne presented his 2024-25 recommended budget at Tuesday’s city Board of Education meeting. The $110.5 million blueprint would, if approved, mean a 6.41 percent increase over the current budget – a hike of $6.6 million. That spending increase would be the most since 2015-16, also the last year the school district overrode the tax cap. 

Byrne, who has steered Rye schools since 2017, has ushered in school budgets that were all cap-compliant – but said he knew this day was coming.  

“You can’t keep up with inflation and the cost of doing business,” he told The Record on Wednesday. “We managed to make it nine years with really careful planning and fiscal conservatism. What I’ve presented to the board last night is the budget I believe that we need.”

That budget, if it remains intact over the next month’s deliberations, would maintain all current programs and services and include $1.2 million in capital infrastructure projects for the high school’s student-athletes. 

The high school gym would be painted, the flooring replaced, the bleachers renovated, and the lighting upgraded to be energy efficient. The softball field, located behind the high school, would be dug up, new drainage installed, and the infield and outfield overhauled. The wrestling room in the high school would be brought up to code, ventilation installed, and new wall padding and mats purchased. Byrne said a ventilation system would allow the district to make better use of the room – currently an underused space, because it lacks fresh air. 

The budget also includes a new elementary school science program; a new AP Capstone program at the high school, and an advanced math and science course in eighth grade – with only the elementary program requiring new funding ($27,366).

Other capital investments include $200,000 toward the completion of the SALTO locking system – a smart system for classroom doors that allows the entire school district to be locked down immediately – at the high school-middle school. 

Security upgrades follow recommendations from a consulting firm that conducted an evaluation of all district buildings in 2018 amid an alarming rise in school shootings nationwide. 

According to Education Week, there have already been seven school shootings in 2024. 

“Unfortunately, the number [of school shootings] around the country, it’s a staggering number of incidents every year and we have to be prepared,” Byrne said. “We’ve had a very concerted effort, very strategic, very specific and in coordination with our local law enforcement.”

Salaries and benefits, which account for roughly 75 percent of the budget each year, would increase in 2024-25 by more than $3 million – to $80.6 million – over the current budget. Included in that line item would be an 11 percent increase, nearly $2.3 million, in health insurance premiums. 

“Our costs are labor intensive. So as an institution, seventy-five-plus percent of our budget [is] related to salaries and benefits of staff,” the superintendent said. “We’re a human industry.”

State aid – $3.08 million in the proposed budget – also continues to shrink the pie, down from $3.9 million in 2018-19. 

The proposed override by Byrne comes as a result of the New York state tax cap, signed into law in 2011 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, establishing a limit on the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. 

An override budget requires a supermajority vote of the public — equal to 60 percent — to pass it. School budgets traditionally only require a majority vote for approval.

To get under the 3.47 percent tax cap for 2024-25, the district would have to find roughly $3.1 million in cost savings – something Byrne has a hard time imagining. 

“Three million dollars of cuts would be enormous,” he said. “I can’t even begin to fathom … they would be devastating, devastating cuts.” 

The current year’s budget, for the 2023-24 academic year, came with a 3.19 percent tax levy increase. The tax levy in the proposed budget would increase by 6.91 percent – to slightly more than $99 million.

The tax levy number constitutes the amount needed to be raised by property taxes to pay for budget expenditures. A historical snapshot shows that the proposed levy increase would mark the highest rate in nearly a decade, since it went up by 6.85 percent with the 2015-16 budget, according to data provided by the school district.

The 2015-16 override budget, however, easily passed with voters approving it by more than a 2-to-1 margin. 

The 2024-25 school budget is scheduled to be adopted by the Board of Education on March 19, and residents are slated to vote on the final proposal on May 21.

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