Pelham schools superintendent proposes 3.26% budget increase to $77.4 million

Picture from

The Pelham Union Free School District’s budget would rise 3.26% to $77.4 million in 2020-2021 under a proposed spending plan presented Wednesday by Superintendent Cheryl Champ to the board of education.

Taxes would increase 3.15%, which is compliant with the state’s tax cap. The 1.81% annual rise in the consumer price index is the basis for cap, and then exclusions are allowed, including the second phase of borrowing for the district’s capital improvements. The numbers are subject to change due to pending state aid decisions and the budget development process. Final state aid figures are usually out by April 1.

Champ said she was providing a “broad brushes” overview of the district’s budget, which the board will go into detail on at their line-by-line review meeting on March 7. The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pelham Memorial High School.

The superintendent said the district’s internal auditor commented on “the thoroughness and transparency” of this year’s budget.

Superintendent’s 2020-21 budget overview slides

The budget is broken into instruction, benefits related to staff, general support, interfund transfers, transportation and community service, Champ said. The main drivers of the budget’s increase include salaries and benefits, which compromise about 79% of the budget; contingency funds, which have been maintained at about 2%; decreasing reliance on the fund balance for the operating budget and retirement costs. 

According to Champ, Governor Andrew Cuomo is “doing some interesting things with the budget…bundling expense-driven aid, so it’s hard to really get a clear picture of what our actual foundation aid is. The governor will beat his chest and say, ‘We had an over 6% increase in foundation aid.’ What it really was was a 0.25% increase in foundation aid, but when you wrap all of our expense-driven entitled aid into that he gets his 6 point (increase). Numbers tell the story people want them to tell at times, and his story doesn’t exactly match ours.”

In terms of programming enhancements, Champ said the board’s mission with this year’s budget is “continuing to invest in doing what we do well,” including “sustainable professional development” in the areas of responsive classrooms, STEAM, literacy, civic discourse and cultural competence.

The budget is scheduled to be adopted by the board on April 22 and voted on by the public, along with open school board seats, on May 19.

In her report, Champ shared updates on the principal search at Pelham Memorial High School. The applicant pool has been narrowed to six candidates, three of whom will advance to the next round of the hiring process. The finalists will interview with the school board and the final candidate is projected to be announced by late March.

In light of the recent news regarding the coronavirus in Italy, Champ said that all students and staff who went on the high school Italy trip are symptom free. Champ also said the district is following general flu protocol, including extra sanitation efforts of “touch zones” such as doorknobs and communal spaces such as gyms.

Julia Chung, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, said students with a fever of 100 degrees or higher are expected to stay home until they have been fever free for 24 hours.

The board’s next meeting is March 11 at 8:15 p.m. in Alumni Hall at PMHS.

Correction: The tax increase was clarified from an earlier version of this story.