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North Castle Daily News

BHSD Budget Vote Passes by Historic Margin
By Louise T. Gantress

May 20, 2014
By a margin of 722 to 199 votes, the Byram Hills School District (BHSD)’s budget of $87,683,158 passed by a 78.8% margin, the highest passing percentage in the history of the District. 

On May 20, only 921 voters of the 11,344 eligible voters voted, or  8.1%. In comparison to the 2013 budget vote, the 2014 voter turnout was lower. In 2013 there were 11,014 eligible voters, and 1,013 or 9.2% participated.

Dr. William Donohue, Superintendent of the District, says, “We really appreciate support of the community and we will continue to strive for excellence and accountability in all aspects of our work.”

The President of the Board of Education Ira Schulman and Vice President Brett Summers were re-elected. Schulman received 714 votes and Summers received 731 votes. “On behalf of Ira Schulman and myself,” says Summers, “we are grateful for the continued support of the community.”

Several high school seniors answered Board President Ira Schulman’s call to students turning eighteen to vote. For some it was the very first time they voted, as they used the old machine with a pull arm and curtain. Next year the District will employ electronic scanning machines, the same as those that are in use for general elections, says Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services, Greg Carlson.

Byram Hills School Board Approves Budget
by Louise T. Gantress

May 12, 2014
On the evening of April 29 the Board of Education of the Byram Hills School District unanimously adopted the Administration’s proposed 2014-15 budget of $87,683,158 representing a 4.6% increase over the prior budget and an estimated tax levy increase of 3.6%. Calling for the budget vote, Board chair Ira Schulman said, “We are at that point where we go on record as to what our budget will be.”

This is the first year of New York’s Property Tax Freeze Program. If a school district is below the state’s tax levy cap, then taxpayers who qualify for State Property Tax Report (STAR) benefits and who have incomes under $500,000 will be eligible to receive a rebate on the increase in the tax levy. In essence, these taxpayers will only pay the amount of the 2013-14 school tax year because the difference between 2013-14 and 2014-15 will be returned by the state after full payment of the new tax amount. Rebates are expected to be made in autumn. School districts are not involved in rebating taxes.

Superintendent Donohue said, “One of our primary goals was to keep the tax increase under the tax cap of 3.6%. By using reserves we did achieve that goal, which means that our eligible homeowners will receive a cash rebate for the full 3.6% increase, in effect creating an increase of zero for them.” All communities in the District are included in the rebate program. The Byram Hills School District is 86.67% dependant upon property taxes for revenue. The tax rate is based on an estimation of full property values.

The budget vote will be held May 20 at the H.C. Crittenden Middle School, 10 MacDonald Avenue. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.  Any resident of the District age 18 and older is eligible to vote. One need not be a registered voter; only have proof of a minimum 30-day residency and U.S. citizenship. Absentee applications are available and due May 13 - if want it mailed to you - or May 19 - if someone is picking up the ballot. The application is here:

School Superintendent Donohue Presents District Budget of $87.7 Million
By Louise T. Gantress

April 16, 2014
At the Byram Hills Board of Education meeting on April 8, 2014, Superintendent Dr. William Donohue presented the school district’s proposed 2014-15 budget, which projects a 4.6% increase from last year to $87,683,158 and a proposed school tax levy increase of 3.6%, or $75,995,863. Components of the budget include 69.8% for school programs, 18.4% for capital expenditures and 11.8% for administration. Of the seven largest budget lines, only one, technology infrastructure improvements, is under administration control. The other six budget lines include special education (legal fees, medical services and tuition), employees’ health insurance, required contributions to the State Retirement Systems, and lastly, debt service on bonds.

As a result of the governor’s new program, effective with the 2014-15 budget year, New York State will provide a tax rebate to homeowners who qualify with an annual income of less than $500,000 and are within a jurisdiction that is under the 2% property tax cap. This is in addition to STAR (School Property Tax Report). 

Beginning with the school budget year 2011-12, taxpayers who earned over $500,000 a year were no longer eligible for STAR tax relief benefits. For the school budget year 2014-15, taxpayers who earn less than $500,000 a year remain eligible for both STAR and the rebate under Governor Cuomo’s Real Estate Tax Freeze and Personal Tax Credit programs. Therefore, for most school district residents there will be a rebate of the school tax increase because the district’s budget is below the state cap on tax increases.  

Gregory Carlson, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Management Services, informed the School Board that the district is required to present a balanced budget, and it receives its largest revenue from real estate taxes. Good news here is that a new taxpayer, Engel Burman, known as The Bristal Assisted Living at Armonk, will join as a PILOT (or payment in lieu of taxes payer) in the amount of $170,000. Other PILOTs are IBM, at $2,298,000 and Swiss Re, at $1,200,000. PILOTs are granted for a term of years and typically the payments increase over time. The lower amount for The Bristal is a result of it being taxed as undeveloped land the first year.

The final tax rate will not be known until the towns have determined their final assessment figures. Actual tax rates will vary town by town within the school district. Projected tax rate increases are:

           North Castle                  +3.61%

           New Castle                    +4.59%

           Bedford                          -6.79%

           Mt. Pleasant                  +4.36%

District dates to keep in mind: April 29 - Adoption of the Budget, May 6  - Budget Hearing V, and on May 20, the Budget Vote at H.C. Crittenden Middle School from 6:30 a.m to 9:00 p.m. 

Byram Hills School District Budget Presentation
By Louise T. Gantress

March 6, 2014
At the March 4 Board of Education (BOE) meeting, the 2014-15 proposed budget of $87,683,158 was presented. 
This preliminary budget is a 4.6 percent increase from last year’s approved budget of $83,812,094. This 4.6 percent is a year-to-year increase, not the tax rate increase. The BOE will spend the next month determining the tax rate and final proposed budget based upon a number of factors including revenues, expenditures, equalization rates, state aid and public input. 

Superintendent Dr. William Donohue said the intent of this budget is to preserve and continue programs so that the children in the lower grades will have the same educational opportunities as graduating seniors, and to do this while staying under the tax cap and without any tax spikes over the next five years.

The budget maintains:

All programs and services to support student success,

All state and federal mandated programs,

All athletic programs,

All extracurricular programs,

All transportation services, and

All programs implemented since 1997.

BHSD now projects enrollment declines, which are helpful in reducing professional costs (salaries and benefits) while retaining small class sizes.  In 2009-10 enrollment was 2,794 for the District and is projected to decline to 2,300 by the 2018-19 school year. The high school is at a peak, with 896 students this term and is expected to decline to 780 by the 2018-19 term.

The District has been also able to refund bonds, thus reducing debt service costs over the next dozen years. No additional bond issuance is foreseen at this time. BHSD holds the highest rating, Aaa, from Moody’s Investors Service, a uniquely high rating for a school district. Of the budget pie, 11.8% is administrative, 18.4% capital and 69.8% program. Budget increases are driven by state and federal mandates and special education costs.

Future BOE budget dates are:

March 18 and 25 --  Opportunity for public input, to add or delete information,

April 8 --  Final presentation                       

April 29 -- Adoption of budget

May 6  -- Mandated Hearing (informational only)

May 20  -- Budget Vote at H.C. Crittenden MS

The March 4 PowerPoint presentation is availalbe at:

The public is invited to attend the PTSA’s budget coffees that will be held on:
March 11 at Wampus Elementary School at 10:00 a.m., 
April 8 at the Byram Hills High School at 9:00 a.m.,
May 7 at HC Crittenden Middle School at 10:00 a.m,
May 12 at Coman Hill Elementary School at 9:45 a.m.

As part of an effort to reform municipal organization and reduce costs, Governor Cuomo’s consolidation plan calls for smaller school districts, such as Byram Hills, to be under the control of the largest district in their area. If the plan is adopted, BHSD would be under the control of the White Plains School District. Residents are to direct their questions about the school district consolidation plan to their elected representatives: NYS Assemblyman David Buchwald and NYS Senator George Latimer. They can be reached at 914-244-4450 and 914-934-5250, respectively. Senator Latimer and Assemblyman Buchwald will host a district office hour on Saturday March 15 at Tazza Cafe in Armonk from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Michelle Boyle contributed to this article.


Byram Hills 2014-2015 School Budget Process Has Begun       

Updated March 6, 2014
The Byram Hills School District 2014-2015 budget process opened at the Board of Education’s January 14 meeting. The BOE’s process includes a series of public budget hearings up until the May 20 budget vote. 

At the January 14 meeting, Superintendent Dr. William Donohue said the primary goal of the budget projection is to maintain excellence in the district’s programing and student outcome, and secondarily, to be fiscally conservative while managing the challenges of staffing and enrollment decline, all the while maintaining a stable tax rate to avoid tax spikes to the community. The district continues to achieve its goal while the administration wants to maintain the future needs of technology, facilities, bond payments, new curriculum, and course offerings.  “We want to prepare for the future needs in a way that avoids borrowing in whatever cases possible.”

The administration, headed by Dr. Donohue, will present the 2014-15 proposed budget to the Board of Education and the public at the March 4 BOE meeting. A series of meetings and Budget Hearings will follow that allows for public input. March 18 and 25, 2014 are respectively Budget Hearings ll and lll. At these meetings, the district’s budget administrators will present brief overviews, and will respond to questions by the Board and the public on specific budget items. 

Budget Hearing lV will be held on April 8. Budget hearing lV is an opportunity for the Board to ask additional questions and consider all of the proposed adds or deletes to the budget arising from Budget Hearings ll and lll. No new budget requests will be considered at this time. The public's comments are invited, but limited only to agenda items. Finally, the recommended budget is finalized in anticipation of the April 29 formal adoption. 

On April 29, the Board will formally adopt the budget, followed by a May 6 BOE meeting when the Board will present the budget and respond to any questions. Note that there will be no changes made to the budget at the May 6 meeting. 

Last year's 2013-14 school budget included two improvements to the district: an upgrade to the school buildings’ security systems (this was seen nationwide in light of the Newtown tragedy) and upgrades to the district’s technology infrastructure. These two items accounted for a .83 percent increase to the budget. 

In last year’s budget, the mandated state pension costs accounted for a 1.92% budget increase. The Board of Education said reserves offset the cost to the taxpayers, ensuring a tax levy of almost $100,000 below the tax levy cap. 

In May 2013, the budget of $83,812,094 was passed by an historical 76.9%. The budget was an increase of 4.2% of expenditures over the 2012-13 budget with a tax levy increase of $90,000, or a 3.5% increase lower than the maximum allowable tax levy of 3.6% of the proposed budget in April 2013.