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Chappaqua School District Talks Tax Cap with Residents

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – At Wednesday night’s Knowledge Café at Robert E. Bell Middle School, Chappaqua’s Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow expressed the district’s intention to bring the 2012-13 budget in under the 2 percent tax cap.

According to the district it faces a difficult challenge of “continuing excellence in academic and extracurricular programs while developing a budget that is fiscally responsible.”

To make it under the cap, the district will need to cut approximately $1.8 million in spending. Chow, however, was only able to present early projections on Wednesday night, since teacher pension, state aid and other figures have not yet been made available.

During the presentation, Chow and Superintendent Lyn McKay wanted to give an idea of why the budget has increased by over $49 million in the last ten years, and how they hope to temper those increases going forward. Chow said that the increase was mostly a result of the rising salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators, which, at $82,981,341, makes up 74.46 percent of the district’s expenditures.

“The reality is this is not a surprising finding,” said Chow. “Think about it: we are really in service industry. We are not manufacturing cars or trucks, we’re here to provide education. And to provide education we really use people.”

Chow also said the budget has been high in year’s past due to increases in pension contributions, consumer price index, and enrollment, which resulted in the hiring of 25 new teachers from 2003-05. Since 2009, however, the district said they have decreased personel by 77 teaching, support, custodial and administrative positions.

“Why is the tax rate going up? It’s always because of the assessment,” said Chow. “The assessment for the school district, for both (New Castle and Mount Pleasant) could really be going down. And therefore, the tax rates are going up higher. That’s really not something that the school district can control.”

After Chow’s presentation, Chappaqua residents shared their ideas on how the district should handle the budget. Residents were recently polled on what programs and services they valued most in the district, and which areas they would be willing make cuts in.

Out of 17 different areas, ranking highest was “an excellent academic education,” “student’s problem solving and applying critical and creative thinking to content,” and “energized and passionate teaching.” Ranking last in terms of importance was “broad athletic opportunities,” according to the results. Arts and clubs also received low scores.

“We are very careful with spending. We really try to find everywhere you can can cut,” said Chow.

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