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Peekskill 2012-13 Budget in Voters Hands Tuesday

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- City residents will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on the 2012-13 Peekskill City School District operating budget and select two people to serve on the board of education for the next three years.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school, which is located at 1072 Elm Street.

The $74.3 million proposed budget is a 3.2 percent increase from the current budget and carries a tax levy increase of 3.3 percent. Superintendent of Schools James Willis said the district had many tough choices to make in dealing with aid cuts from the state and rising costs like special education.

"The public should understand that we went through a long time and some very intense and deep discussions and analysis to get where we are," Willis said.

Another issue that Peekskill and other districts across the state are dealing with is the new state 2 percent tax levy cap, and Willis said he hoped voters understood that the increase is 3.3 percent instead of 2 percent due to budget items excluded by the state, such as increases in teacher contracts and pension costs.  

"We stayed within the 2 percent tax cap limit but it does rise above 2 percent when you add exclusions back in, but that's part of their formula," Willis said. "People need to realize the cost of doing business in school districts goes up every year and a lot of that is out of our hands."

The district tried to eliminate positions through attrition when possible, Willis said.

The district is eliminating an elementary education teacher and a home and careers teacher through retirement. An assistant principal at the high school is being made a part-time position.

A full-time librarian is being reduced to a part-time position, a foreign language teacher is being eliminated possibly through retirement and a part-time music teacher position was further cut to save money. Also, a full-time guidance counselor is being eliminated at both the high school and middle school.

Two security aide positions are also to be cut and a full-time district data specialist is being reduced to a part-time position. The district is also losing a custodial worker and an office assistant due to retirement. The district videographer position is being reduced from a 12-month to a 10-month position.

A school bus administrator is scheduled to be cut but Willis said the position may be restored since the cost savings would be minimal.

"We really impacted very few full-time teaching positions," Willis said.  "We did reduce a couple, but given the major gap we had, a little over $3 million, we cut a lot of other things before we cut staff."

Among cuts were cutting new textbooks and cutting down on paper supplies in the district. Funding for two BOCES programs were also shelved for the year and an alternative education program at BOCES that Peekskill students attend will be replaced by an in district alternative education center being planned for next year.  

Cutting modified sports programs was being considered by the district but administrators decided against it, Willis said.

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