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Pearl River Budget Talk Focuses on Increasing Benefit Costs, Decreased State Aid

Enrollment, technology costs and debt management were also part of the Pearl River School District 2013-14 budget presentation Wednesday.

Pearl River School District Director of Operations Quinton Van Wynen projected a $1.7 million deficit for the 2013-14 budget in January. 

During a budget presentation at Wednesday's board of education meeting, he focused on some of the costs leading to the problem, particularly retirement benefits and healthcare costs.

Van Wynen explained that the total cost of employee benefits in the district has increased 44 percent since 2008-09. Benefits will take up approximately 23 percent of the total budget for 2013-14. Those rates are set at the state level, so the district has no control over the costs other than reducing the size of its staff.

"The main culprits are health insurance and retirement contributions," Van Wynen said. "When we look at where our costs are increasing, we don't have to go much past the benefit line."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed executive budget for New York calls for an overall increase in state aid to schools of approximately four percent, but the number varies by district and Van Wynen said Pearl River's aid will actually drop for 2013-14.

"State aid is not a wonderful picture," Van Wynen said. "Pearl River will have about a one percent drop on a year-over-year basis. Our state aid is projected to be about $100,000 less for 2013-14."

Van Wynen pointed to an item known as High Tax Aid, which is being calculated differently this year.

"They changed it this year to take some funds from wealthier districts and redistribute it to districts perceived to have greater needs," Van Wynen said. "This has a significant impact on Pearl River (from $928,000 to $278,000). That accounts for most of our cut and it is the reason we are the only district in the county getting less this year. Everybody else is getting somewhat more."

The formula for building aid is also changing, but that impact is more likely to be felt in 2014-15.

"That will be for next year's disappointment," Van Wynen said.  

Van Wynen's proposal for IPA (technology) spending for 2013-14 comes to $428,836 for 2013-14, an increase from $259,016 for 2012-13. That includes the following:

  • 300 desktop computers at $195,000
  • 60 laptop computers at $35,000
  • Wireless capacity for elementary schools at $62,000
  • Server upgrades at $33,000
  • Additional wiring at Pearl River High School at $10,000

One issue that will require districts to upgrade their technological capabilities is PARC, which calls for schools to be prepared to give state tests online by the spring of 2015.

"It's an unfunded mandate from the state," Van Wynen said. "For example, the third grade at Franklin Ave. (Elementary School) is going to need (75) desktops or laptops available in one place for kids to take the test at one time," Van Wynen said. "I have every confidence that they (the state department of education) don't have the bandwidth, but that doesn't stop them from telling us to be ready to do it.

"It's the blind leading the blind. The guys in Albany are no help at all."

Mike February 22, 2013 at 12:49 AM
I would like to see an analysis of employee salaries and benefits classified as administrative and hands on teaching. My guess is that the majority of the top salary costs will fall under the administrative category. It is at that point where the Board of Ed needs to start asking tough questions. We need to find out what each employee under the administrative category does in detail paying close attention to what value do they bring to the district. Second, the Board needs to look for ways to consolidate or eliminate administrative positions. Third, review and evaluate current salary structure compared to national averages and if warranted institute across the board wage cuts. Finally look at how PRSD compares in specific areas like Special Ed in terms of how students perform. The bottom line is cuts need to be made first in the high cost administrative areas of the district before we cut front line teachers.

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