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Scarsdale Schools Cut Wellness Center From Budget, Comply With Tax Cap

Scarsdale residents rail against the failed 2013-2014 Scarsdale school budget at a May 23 public forum. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly
Scarsdale School Board President Liz Guggenheimer leads the first of two public forums on the 2013-2014 budget. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – The Scarsdale school board has decided to scratch the proposed wellness center for the high school and comply with the state-mandated tax cap when it proposes and adopts a new 2013-2014 budget.

The board announced its decisions at the second of two public forums on the budget Wednesday, which drew 42 speakers from the community. The forums were held to give residents a chance to voice their opinions after they voted down the 2013-2014 budget May 21.

The originally adopted budget exceeded the tax cap by $702,000 and included funding for a new wellness center, which sparked some criticism.

Dozens of community members expressed their concern at the two forums that education costs are getting out of hand. However, many looked beyond the wellness center to the basic operation of the district and asked that it look for alternative ways to streamline its costs.

“I think you have to look deeper than just, ‘we have to cut out the wellness center,’” Mitchell Gross said at the first public forum May 23. “You have to look within the structure of the school district itself.”

Some residents felt the district should look for savings when the teachers union’s contract expires this year. Others suggested cutting teachers outright. Still others wanted to see administrative jobs and initiatives like STI and the center for innovation cut and/or streamlined.

While there were many voices clamoring for cuts at the two forums, others supported the failed budget.

“I know that we have a high cost per student, but I think we get value for that,” Pam Rubin said. “We want our investment to be in our teachers. As a property owner, I think that’s what’s going to make Scarsdale an attractive place to live. That’s the view of someone who moved here for the schools, stayed here for the schools and will stay here for the schools.”

Like Rubin, David Thompson voted for the budget May 21. He said he hadn’t followed the budget process up until that point. But, after learning more about it since that time, he said he would vote no now because he wants to see the district develop a long-range financial plan instead of dealing year-to-year.

Linda Purvis, assistant superintendent for schools, explained long-range planning presents a challenge because the state comptroller dictates the percentage retirement benefits will increase each year. She said those mandates are expected to increase again next year, then potentially level off.

If the second budget fails to pass, the district can only collect the same amount of taxes it did for the 2012-2013 school year. This would force the district to make $4.99 million in cuts, which Purvis said would translate to about 50 teachers or “every bit of facilities work and 40 teachers,” or some other combination.

The school board must adopt a new budget by Monday, June 3, and put it to a public vote June 18. It will require only a simple majority, as opposed to a supermajority when it exceeded the tax cap. 

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