Some facts about our local school district's proposed budget:
- It is the highest budget-to-budget increase among 53 school districts in the Lower Hudson Valley.
- The number of enrolled students is not projected to increase.
- It eliminates at least 6 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) instructional positions, reduces the music program and increases class sizes.
- $950,000 was pulled from the district's unallocated fund balance in order to offset what would otherwise have been an even bigger tax levy increase.
- Pension/health/salary costs went up, while all other school costs combined went down.
- Taxpayer-funded pension costs increased approximately 37% from last year and account for over 50% of the budget increase. ( It is projected that taxpayer-funded annual contributions to teacher pensions will more than quadruple over the next five years.)
- For their family health insurance coverage, school employees pay only a fraction of premiums paid by state employees (26%) and private sector employees (18%). Health benefit costs account for 18% of this year's budget increase.
The bottom line is that student programs have been downsized while school employees have experienced negligible changes to their generous compensation packages. Good teachers should be well compensated, but the trend of escalating cost of benefits means that for the foreseeable future either the quality of our children's education will diminish or substantial tax increases will be accepted by voters. And given that Westchester leads nation in property taxes again, I predict that our children will be the losers in this equation. It appears that the real choice we face is either cutting compensation costs or cutting student services.
I'd like to know if our school board asked the union to renegotiate their contract before the budget was finalized.
Related: Passing the pension time bomb in New York State
* Taxpayers in the Edgemont district face the highest spending increase in the region, 4.5 percent, according to state data. Superintendent Nancy Taddiken said, however, that the $50.7 million proposed budget includes $850,000 for capital projects that was collected from prior years' budgets.
"Our budget-to-budget increase is 2.73 percent," Taddiken said. "The larger number is a result of an accounting requirement."