Haldane Still Struggling with Budget Gap

Garrison budget approved  

By Pamela Doan

Despite a small bump in state aid from the New York State Legislature, the Haldane Board of Education still faces a deficit as their scheduled April 8 deadline to pass a budget for the 2014-15 school year hits next week. In an update from the March 25 budget presentation, Interim Superintendent John Chambers noted that Haldane’s deficit increased by $34,000 due to tuition loss from another student.

Haldane’s total deficit is $694,000 and the district will receive $82,000 in state aid as determined by the state budget passed this week. Chambers noted that he had heard from several state legislators that the outpouring of support from many district parents and faculty about the budget had influenced their allocations.

With all the numbers in place, the board is getting down to serious discussion about the possibilities that they have been reviewing over the past month. Chambers and Business Manager Anne Dinio have recommended three strategies to balance the budget that have been presented previously. The district can close the gap by eliminating the “bubble class” for the fourth grade, reducing a position, and most significantly, opting into the Teacher’s Retirement System stable contribution option, which will save $301,000 in the following year alone.

Essentially, the TRS smoothing option allows the district to pay the interest rate on the pension over an extended period of time rather than all at once. Given that projections for the 2015-16 budget look more positive, this will give the district the breathing room that it needs. The school’s website has a fact sheet on the system posted in the Annual Budget section.

At their April 8 meeting, the board will consider options to close the remaining gap of $176,000. In broad strokes, the administration is looking at equipment and supplies, renegotiating contracts with outside vendors, staff development expenses, extracurricular activities like clubs, class trips and athletic teams, and non-mandated classes and programs like electives.

The board may extend the budget deadline past April 8. They have to present a budget by April 22, but expressed their desire to have public input, depending on the reductions that are proposed. There may be another meeting April 10 to finalize the budget.

The board is committed to staying within the Tax Levy Limit of 1.09 percent. A community member spoke out during the public comment section about his frustration that taxpayers don’t know the full increase in their property taxes at the time they are asked to approve the district’s budget. Another parent, Peter Sanders, addressed the board and asked that they consider the possibility of the loan and research what other districts do to balance their budgets.

Trustee Evan Schwartz said, “If you look at the survey of Westchester and Putnam districts, Haldane is in the bottom 10 percent of all districts with our increase. This is the lowest tax rate increase we’ve passed since I’ve been on the board.”

Seniors who participated in the service-learning trip to New Orleans showed a video they had produced about their trip to the board. Student Mary Callaghan said, “We had such a great time and I really hope this trip continues going on and on and on because everyone got something out of it in different ways. It brought our class together.” In a handout, they shared responses from students about the experience. All of them mentioned that being exposed to a different culture gave them a new perspective and described being able to help people in need as a rewarding experience.

Garrison budget approved by board

At their meeting on Wednesday, April 2, the Board of Education of the Garrison Union Free School District passed the 2014-15 budget with little fanfare or comment. Interim Superintendent Brian Monahan said, “The feedback we’ve received has been positive and complimentary. People seem to feel we’ve struck a good balance.”

Garrison voters will be asked to approve a budget that is within the Tax Levy Limit at the rate of 1.92 percent on May 20. Although Garrison received a small increase in state aid, as did Haldane, the board is still dipping into the district’s reserve fund to meet the school’s needs. At a previous meeting when this was discussed, board members expressed confidence that this could be paid back, if not in full, but at least partially.

The meeting was the last for Monahan, among nearly 700 board meetings that he estimates he has attended in his career. The new superintendent, Laura Mitchell, starts at her post on April 21. Monahan will spend some time with Mitchell before she begins and then be available to help with her transition. The board expressed their appreciation to him for stepping in to help the district through the past few months while they hired a permanent replacement for Gloria Colucci.