In the latest budget presentations, Yorktown schools superintendent Ralph Napolitano said the national economic crisis is affecting the delivery of education and the ability of the state government to fund it.
"This saddens me," he said. "It's not something I feel good about reporting, but it is our reality. The tax payers clearly, most particularly in Westchester where we're paying some of the highest taxes in the country are becoming financially intolerant of being able to support budgets that are so expensive."
The property valuations simultaneously, he said, are plummeting and stock market losses have caused pension costs to skyrocket.
The Yorktown school district expects a $1.2 million state aid cut, while the pension costs are rising to $1.5 million.
Here in town, the declining real estate values have led to significant tax challenges, or certiorari. Currently, the former Verizon building, located on Route 202, near BJ's, has challenged Yorktown for what they consider "excessive taxing" over a period of 10 years, Napolitano said.
"They're expecting a reimbursement from the school district of $1 million," he said. "This is something that was very unexpected for us because although we do put $1 million to the side for certioraris, we don't expect that we're going to pay it them in one single challenge. And in this case that's what's happened to us."
This tax challenge is wiping out the district's reserve fund, Napolitano said.
New York State is facing a $10 billion budget gap. As a result state aid and federal stimulus funds to school districts are cut.
Some of the problems the school district is facing are increasing salaries due to contracts, increasing health insurance, no relief for current or proposed unfunded state mandates. In addition the state has proposed a 2-percent tax cap, which would limit the district's tax levy growth to $1.4 million, Napolitano said.
He said they will need to find $4 million to reduce the tax levy by transferring $1.4 million from the fund balance, which would still leave $2.6 million in cost reductions or added revenue needed.
"Every aspect of the budget is under review right now," Napolitano said. "And every possible source of revenue is investigated."
He also reviewed the savings from closing French Hill Elementary School for this 2010-11 school year. The district will continue to save $1 million every year the school is closed because of the reduced positions and costs of electricity, heat, general maintenance, overtime and purchases of materials and equipment, he said.
"We are expecting to lease the building during the next school year (2011- 2012)," Napolitano said. "The money from the rental will help increase funding allocations for the school budget."
Assistant Superintendent of Business Tom Cole reviewed the preliminary special education and curriculum budgets. The special education budget is $12.4 million, up from 2010-2011 budget of $11.7 million. The estimated curriculum budget is $35.5 million, up from the 2010-2011 budget of $34.4 million.
During the school board of education meeting next week, Monday, March 7, Napolitano will present the Superintendent's budget.