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Titanic Concerns Remain for Chappaqua Schools

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's fateful maiden voyage approaching, school board President Alyson Kiesel could not help but parallel the Chappaqua Central School District's fate to that of the famous sinking ship.

“Did you get a sense in Albany that they are aware of the impending iceberg?" Kiesel asked Best 4 NY representative Jim McCauley following the board's approval the district's 2012-13 budget on Tuesday night.

Despite being able to bring the budget within the state-mandated tax levy cap, Kiesel is among the board members concerned about being able to meet the mark in the future.

"We are not magicians," said board member Victoria Tipp. "To pretend that we can go on and provide the same level of service is just simply not true."

The district was able to make it within the tax levy cap for 2012-13 by using $3 million from its $16 million fund balance. The fund balance consists of taxpayer dollars that were set aside for potential claims, liability, retirement contributions, repairs, tax certioraris and other expenses.

Tipp estimated that the fund balance can help the district keep up its current services and programs while remaining within the tax cap for five or six more years. Others, however, were not so optimistic. Board member Jeffrey Mester said the district would be able to keep up the pace for only two or three more years.

With the restrictions, the district cut 10.4 full-time-equivalent positions. Superintendent Lyn McKay said the district's small class sizes could be next on the chopping block.

"We were very careful in elementary to keep the class size small," McKay said. "So that’s where we usually go next. Not always. But we worked very hard at the class size this year."

In total, the projected budget shows a tax levy increase from about $98.9 million to about $101 million. Mester took issue with a $49,342 employee retirement service exemption that allowed the district’s tax levy cap to sit at 2.11 percent and still satisfy the state law. Mester suggested using $50,000 from the district’s fund balance to abide by the letter of the law and comply with the 2 percent tax levy cap.

“I think we should send a message," Mester said. "That’s the whole reason we have a tax cap, because of the mandates. And now they’re giving us an exemption? It’s politicians in Albany playing games again.”

Despite agreeing with Mester's principle, board members said the $50,000 could be put to better use than sending a message that politicians in Albany might not even receive.

"They should have addressed this in the legislation when they came up with it," Kiesel said. "But next year, if that number’s significant, we won’t be able to stand on our moral high horse. We’re going to have to succumb and use that exemption.”

Mester reluctantly conceded the point and voted in favor of the budget, making the approval unanimous. The budget will now go for voter approval on the May 15 ballot.

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