School officials proposed a $93.2 million tax levy for the 2013-14 school year at the Feb. 26 Board of Education meeting, and parents expressed concerns about program cuts after the district said it needs to fill a $5 million budget gap to meet increased pension and health care costs.
The proposed tax levy — the total amount the district needs to raise through property taxes — is an increase of just .99 percent over the current year, and school officials say that in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, residents could not shoulder any additional financial burden.
“Because of the devastation our community has experienced over this year, we don’t feel that the community can sustain more than [this increase],” the district’s chief operating officer, Michael DeVito, said at the first of a series of budget presentations. “The reason why I asked for this meeting tonight, partly is … to set the framework for the next two months of work that we’re going to be doing with the board and with the community to try to figure out what we’re going to do about … the budget.”
Though operating and instructional costs will essentially remain the same, DeVito said that the current $122.1 million spending plan will need to increase by $5 million to cover contractual obligations and state-mandated costs such as increased pension contributions, health insurance and serial bond payments.
He added that the proposed tax levy increase would only bring in an additional $925,000, which left some residents wondering how the district would close the budgetary gap given the state’s 2 percent property-tax cap, which took effect last year. “I fear [the cuts] are going to come from instructional programs,” said one audience member.
The district has some leeway to raise property taxes more than 2 percent for certain building, construction, equipment and transportation costs and pension contributions. School officials have determined that the allowable increase is actually 5.52 percent.