Not surprisingly, the March 11 Board of Education meeting was dominated by discussion of the 2014/2015 budget — and the $3.8 million shortfall.
By Sarah Varney
Not surprisingly, the March 11 Board of Education meeting was dominated by discussion of the 2014/2015 budget — and the $3.8 million shortfall. But a proposed utility tax coupled with a boost in the use of reserve funds would effectively eliminate that gap. The tax cap-compliant budget proposal for 2014/2015, presented by Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez, totaled $79,470,000.
The Board first brought up the possibility of a utility tax at its February 28 board meeting. Per the Board’s request, the District researched the receipt of revenue from a proposed utility tax and found that it could generate as much as $990,700 to help offset the budget shortfall. A utility tax would be collected on the sale of homeowners’ power and telephone utilities in the same manner as state sales taxes. The tax figure would also appear on customers’ monthly bills. (A utility tax is not tax-deductible, unlike property taxes.)
The first budget proposed included the use of $2.3 million in reserve funds, while the updated proposal would use $2.8 million of reserve funds. The funds have decreased by 29 percent since the 2010/2011 budget season; an unsustainable rate of decrease over the next few years. Under the proposed budget, the remaining fund balance would be $8,372,660 down 25 percent from $11,224,467 a year ago.
Plans for the further use of reserve funds on possible budget cuts are definitely still in play as the May 20 vote approaches. Board of Education president Laura Slack emphasized that in light of these and other difficult issues, community participation in the budget process is extremely important. “We’re focused on delivering a budget that preserves programs, staffing and appropriate class size. We look forward to a great deal of community input at our open topic forum on March 25,” she said.
Business concluded with the announcement by Board member Ed Fox that he will retire at the end of his third term in June. At the same time, fellow member Karen Belanger announced that she would run for a second term in the May 20 election.
According to District sources, no one has yet picked up nomination papers to compete against Belanger.
Belanger noted that it has been an honor to serve the Rye community on the Board of Education for the past three years. “I hope the community continues to find my financial and management expertise, knowledge of the District, and understanding of public education issues in New York State to be useful,” she said.
At the next meeting set for March 25, board members will meet with community and parent groups in an open forum style. In these meetings, members of the board record questions and concerns and relay them to the district for answers.