Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, May 21 to vote on the Port Chester school budget and for one school board position. Polls will be open in the Port Chester Middle School gymnasium at 113 Bowman Ave. between 7:00 a. m. and 9:00 p. m.

"As a taxpayer, I appreciate that this year's proposed budget stays under the New York State Tax Cap. While some districts are asking their voters to override the tax cap, you have exacted a budget that works within our guidelines while putting our children first," said Deirdre Pascale at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, May 9. "As a parent, I'd like to express my appreciation for a budget that stops the bleeding from the incessant cuts in programs and services that our students have endured. I gratefully recognize that last year our teachers and staff made critical concessions that allowed us to move forward without cutting programs and services this year."

The proposed school budget, which will cover the period from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, totals $85.2 million and complies with the New York State Tax Levy Cap. The tax levy is $58.3 million, about $27,000 below the district's maximum allowable levy increase of 2.83%.

"Tax increases, no matter how small, are always a hard sell," said parent Steve Simmons during the budget discussion. Taking into account inflation, however, he said, the budget Madeline Cole-Short, a 3rd grader at King Street School, speaks at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, May 9 in favor of the Port Chester school budget that will go before voters on Tuesday, May 21.

increase is essentially less than 1%, a reasonable increase given the larger student population and rising health insurance and pension costs, both of which the district cannot control.

Additions under the proposed spending plan include three teachers at the middle school because of the increase in attending students, an English Language Learner teacher at Edison School, a math teacher at the high school, security guards at all the elementary schools and additional computers for mandated state testing. The school board also budgeted $350,000 to cover federal sequestration cuts.

"This budget also keeps things in it that are not mandated like music, art and drama, extracurricular activities and clubs," said parent Kikki Short, who also spoke in favor of the budget. "Let us be perfectly clear about this. Cutting programs like these reduces the overall quality of education for the children in Port Chester."

"I don't want my school to have to cut programs like music and art because music and art make people happy and help students learn," said her daughter Madeline Cole-Short, a 3rd grader at King Street School and the youngest, by far, to speak at the meeting. "I think everyone should vote yes on the budget because the children of Port Chester deserve good schools."

While the district cut very little in next year's budget, the school board made the decision not to purchase two-way security radios, one of the recommendations by the superintendent, so as to close a budget gap of about $98,000 and remain under the tax cap.

"We're dealing with a difficult tax cap and I think we have done what is appropriate under the circumstances," Board of Education President Jim Dreves said.

Assessments down, taxes up

School taxes are calculated based on the previous year's home assessment and from 2011 to 2012, assessments in the school district have dropped by about $250 million.

"The reason that's so important is that's what directly factors into what you pay for your taxes," Dreves said. If assessments start going back up, at that point the school board will consider bringing things back to the district, adding rather than cutting, the latter having been the trend over the past seven years, he added.

The average assessed value for a single-family home in the Port Chester School District two years ago was $464,000. When compared with the 2012 average assessed value of $444,000, based on the homestead tax rate in the adopted spending plan of $18.06 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, next year's school taxes would be $8,020, an increase of $625. With the Basic STAR exemption, taxes would rise $600, and with Enhanced STAR they would increase $574.

While the homestead tax rate is an increase of 13.34% over last year's number of $15.94 per $1,000, this is not reflective of how residents' taxes will be affected.

While the tax rate will go up under the proposed budget, the assessed value of the district has gone down by about 7.8%.

"Had it not dropped, our tax rate would have gone up 0.64%, not a full percent," said Maura McAward, assistant superintendent for business. "The most influential driver in the tax rate over the last three years has been the loss in property value rather than the increase in the tax levy."

Since every homeowner's taxes are different, voters can find out exactly how the proposed tax levy will impact them by using the formula provided here to calculate what next year's taxes will be or by visiting the Port Chester Schools homepage and using the Tax Calculator there to compare next year's school taxes with this year's taxes.

"The bottom line is we need the community to come out and vote," said Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus, Jr. "You can't be complacent and not worry about these things. It's so critical."

Also up for election on May 15 are two candidates-current school board member Carolee Brakewood and challenger James Carriere-for one open Board of Education seat.

While at the middle school, voters may also choose to participate in Family U, which will provide free workshops for parents and students from 6 p. m. to 8:30 p. m.