School officials in Three Village are concerned that the upcoming budget process could be even more difficult than last year's, which saw the first shot at a school budget fail before the community approved an at-the-cap budget of $176.7 million.
According to a preliminary budget presentation delivered at a Dec. 11 school board meeting, this year Three Village is facing a gap of around $8.75 million between a "rollover" budget, which would preserve all current programs and staffing levels, and a "tax cap" budget, which would require steep cuts.
Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said to close that gap would require a 10.2 percent tax levy increase, but Three Village's cap on a tax levy increase will fall at approximately 3.6 percent – a figure which won't be finalized until February.
The largest area of increase is expected to be the district's mandatory contribution to the state's teachers' retirement fund system, which could total around $17 million in Three Village. That would be an increase of more than $4 million, which represents a jump of 31 to 39 percent. For comparison, Carlson pointed out, in the 2001-2002 school year the district's total contribution was $302,000. The actual increase, however, won't be set until February.
"That’s a big part of it. That’s hurting everybody," Carlson said.
Contractual salary increases for teachers and staff members could amount to $4.6 million – though this number is based on the consumer price index (CPI) – and health insurance costs, which could rise between $2.5 million and $3 million but which won't be finalized until February.
Carlson said those estimates factor in no changes in the amount of state aid the district receives. The district received approximately $36 million in state aid in the 2010-11 school year and approximately $35 million in the 2011-12 school year.
In a "best case scenario," Carlson said, a lower-than-expected CPI will limit the contractual salary increases; health insurance rates and retirement fund contributions will be lower; and state aid will increase. Those factors could reduce the budget gap to around $6.5 million instead of $8.75 million.
Board of Education president Dr. Jeff Kerman said it was "not an eye-opening shock, but still not great to hear."
"It's probably going to be more difficult than last year," he said. "We are going to have to dig deep into the numbers."
The Board of Education meets again Jan. 8; it typically kicks off its formal budget workshop series in March.