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Scarsdale Schools, Coalition at Odds Over Budget

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – A difference of opinion over surplus budgeting and spending has led the Coalition for Scarsdale Schools to take its case for increasing the school district budget to the public.

An ad in a February edition of the weekly Scarsdale Inquirer questioned the wisdom of a plan to reduce the Scarsdale School District's planned budget surplus by spending a portion over the next few years.

Using what Assistant Schools Superintendent Linda Purvis says are excess funds in the surplus account would lower the tax increase and keep the 2012-2013 budget under the state's new tax levy cap.

Purvis said recently the planned surplus makes up 3.5 percent of the budget, but almost 5 percent is actually coming from the surplus because of unexpected savings on items such as energy and health insurance. Because of the warmer winter, the district saved money on heating costs. Also, the district is self-insured, and employees have managed to stay healthy, creating a significant surplus in that account.

Purvis said that, rather than asking taxpayers for money the district does not intend to spend, it would be better to spend down the current surplus and then go to taxpayers for increases when they are truly needed.

"I think you gain a lot of credibility with your taxpayers when you say to them, look, we may have to ask you to do this at some point, but we don't have to do it now," Purvis said.

In prepared remarks to the Board of Education at its March 19 meeting, Art Rublin took issue with the plan to cut the surplus by $700,000 from Superintendent Michael McGill's original budget proposal, even though not making the cuts would put the budget over the cap. Rublin said it was CSS's position that "exceeding the cap this year would put the district in the best position for future years – the years Dr. McGill and Ms. Purvis very rightly referred to in their proposals to the board last month, the years during which we know you all are very committed to support Scarsdale education for tomorrow. And at the same time, the tax rate for Scarsdale would be substantially lower than it was last year when the board considered but decided not to apply additional surplus."

Rublin recalled that Purvis said the $700,000 cut would likely mean an increase in the tax levy for 2013-14, and also would likely mean exceeding the tax cap, requiring a 60 percent override vote, eliminating programs or using reserves, options the CSS finds objectionable.

"The coalition wants us to tax pre-emptively to avoid a revenue spike next year," Purvis said. "I think that's fine up to a point, but you can become too dependent on those surpluses as a means of funding our program."

Looking at the preliminary budget put forth March 19 by the Board of Education including changes from the original proposal submitted by McGill in February, Purvis said, "The changes that were made were not changes to programs, they did not cut teachers, they did not cut support staff, they did not cut nurses or custodians; they cut surpluses, and frankly, that becomes an issue for them to deal with next year. They may not have enough revenue next year. They may have to actually go to the community and ask to supersede the tax cap. But they don't have to do it this year. What we are saying to the taxpayers is, 'We hope you are going to be there for us when we need you to do it.' Until then, they we are going to have a totally transparent budgeting process that lets you know how much we actually need to tax."

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