The Tarrytowns – In the Schools
The Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Board of Education has proposed a budget of $62,511,933 for the 2009-2010 school year for a vote on May 19.
Superintendent Howard Smith
This amount is up $2,341,583 or 3.89% from last year. The tax impact is 2.35%.
School Superintendent Howard Smith said the budget reflected cutbacks in many areas.
"We’re going to be down eight-and-a-half instructional positions which translates to four-and-a-half teachers and four teacher assistants," said Smith. The reconfiguration of bus routes played a factor, originally sending out separate buses for each school at times that weren’t arranged as efficiently. "Changing the starting and ending times at the elementary level and combining some kids on buses allowed us to reduce by a third the number of buses we have to put out on the road to get kids to school." It went down from 15 to 10 saving money by getting rid of the oldest buses instead of having to replace them altogether.
Slightly larger classroom sizes will occur along with class groupings. A kindergarten section will be cut back in the elementary school raising the class level from 19 or 20 to 22 or 23. The reading specials position in Washington Irving will be eliminated, due to the sixth grade class being moved up to the middle school. A math special position was eliminated; that affects kids at all elementary school levels. Curriculum work and staff training has prepared the staff to help the students’ needs in the classroom without the aid of special teachers. The existing staff at the middle school will be able to handle the needs of students without requiring a special teacher as well. In the high school level, math and science classes will be slightly larger and students will not always receive their first choice in an elective.
One way money was raised for the upcoming school year was by staff members signing a voluntary contribution commitment for next year totaling about $150,000. 80% of the staff contributed. Smith contributed his salary increase for the year — 4% or about $10,000. His salary will remain at $252,000. The extra money will be used to offset the property tax increase that will be required to balance the budget without reducing more staff.
Like most districts, the school budget is below the contingency amount.
Sleepy Hollow residents will experience a 1.99% increase for homestead and 8.22% increase for non-homestead residents. Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio said the village trustees are trying to cut back the increase to 0% by the end of April when the budget is adopted. "We’ve cut it down so much that [the board] would have to cut services if they were to get it down to 0% at this point," said Giaccio. "We don’t expect to get as much in mortgage and sales tax, but they slashed the budget last year and we’ve been asked to slash it one more time."
An attempt to keep taxes down is something the board is trying to do at the same time as providing more services throughout the village. "[People] stay closer to home," said Giaccio. "I think we saw that with the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We had a huge turnout, and I think people want to get back to a small town feel and stay at home and not go on vacation. We’re seeing more of a demand even though we’re trying to keep our expenses down."
The board is trying to come up with more creative ways to generate revenue and apply for more grants with the stimulus money. "We’re asking some groups that may have a parade or event to pay some overtime costs or contribute to some of the expenses," said Giaccio. "Otherwise we may have to cut services. We’ve also cut back on our contribution to local groups that normally get funding from the village and we’re taking a hard look at the historical society, the COC, those types of things. Everybody’s affected by this."
Department heads have been asked to come up with budgets that only require the essentials to keep costs down. But 75% of the budget is out of their control with Teamsters and Police salary contracts. "Police salaries and DPW’s are already set; that’s part of the budget. We have to try and cut the rest of the expenses that we have."
Projects are still moving along. Senior citizen building and park improvements are continuing. New sidewalks down by the park are being constructed. "We’re moving on with our downtown revitalization," said Giaccio. "We’re trying to do some things down here. Other than that it’s business as usual. We’re moving along."
A $274,000 reduction in non-property tax revenues has affected Tarrytown’s budget. "Between the loss of revenues, values of properties have gone down," said Village Administrator Michael Blau. "We’ve been hit in a number of different ways, so the amount of money we’re bringing in has gone down and we’ve had to address that."
Three positions in the current year are not being refilled in attempts to control tax rate increases.
"In past years we’ve encountered difficulties, but this is probably the toughest budget I’ve put together and the toughest budget Treasurer Jim Hart has worked on," Blau said.
But Hart said villagers would not see any reduction in services. "We’re maintaining the level of services. The only big change they’re going to see in this upcoming budget is that our staffing level has gone down. We’re looking at some fee increases, but everybody’s looking at fee increases."