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Rising Personnel Costs Affect Sleepy Hollow Schools

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – $1.6 million of the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns' projected $1.8 million deficit in its 2012-13 school budget is directly related to personnel costs.

Some members of the school community said they are tired of seeing cuts to student programming during budget season and want to look elsewhere for savings while others argue that employees have already contributed more than enough when it comes to helping the school save money.

“Our taxes are going up while programming is going down,” Parent Timothy Church said. “I think our community's going to suffer. It cannot take the long-term consequences” of this trend.

Ellen Kaplan, president of the teachers' union, agreed that students were the top priority, but argued against making further cuts to contracts.

“It reaches a point where we're citizens too,” she said. “I'm just out to earn a living. The 306 members in the bargaining unit cannot support your school district.”

Kaplan appealed to the board of education and other school community members, saying, “Please don't paint us as monsters.”

The projected deficit is contingent on the school district deciding to stay within the state's recently passed tax cap while making no changes to expenses.

The new law places a limit on the percentage of taxes a school can levy to two percent. Schools can override the tax cap if 60 percent of the voters agree to the measure.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Howard Smith outlined union contracts and estimated their effect on the school's budget under the property tax cap law during Thursday's  meeting.

Smith offered no opinions about how the school should approach personnel costs when  the budget is prepared, saying he wasn't going to editorialize the presentation. He only noted the school's challenge would be to deal with rising personnel costs under a tax cap.

Smith also did not give an opinion about upcoming contract negotiations between the teachers' and administrators' unions, saying the school would not be negotiating in public.

“We have a good, working relationship with our unions,” Smith said. “We just now started the negotiation process in good faith from the perspective of both parties involved and we'll see where it takes. Everybody understands the challenges that we face.”

TUFSD has four separate bargaining units: CSEA 1 for custodial, maintenance and transportation workers; CSEA 2 for clerical, aides and nurses; teachers and teacher assistants; and administrators.

Each bargaining unit signs contracts addressing salaries, benefits, working conditions and rights. Both of the CSEA contracts expire on June 30, 2013. The teachers' and administrators' contracts expire on June 30, 2012 .

Church asked school board members for specifics on what was negotiable in union contracts.

“What can we get back in these negotiations that can put us on a more sustainable path so that when the budget comes up, we're not looking at [going to half-day] kindergarten?” he asked.

Ken Torosian told school board officials he was concerned about the school overriding the tax cap to raise more funds, saying the school has had more money in the past but nothing worked. He was also concerned about where the increases funds would go, whether they'd cover rising personnel costs or go to student programming.

“I want the money going to the programs,” he said.

Church, too, said parents couldn't take programming cuts anymore.

“I'd like you to demand savings in contracts that you're negotiating so we can be confident in our schools again,” he said.

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