Champ provides overview of proposed $76.7 million budget at PTA forum; board candidates field questions


A YouTube forum hosted by the Pelham Council of PTAs  offered an overview Tuesday of the Pelham Union Free School District’s proposed budget, as well as a chance for residents to ask questions of unopposed board candidates Jessica DeDomenico and Sue Bratone Childs.

The $76.7 million proposed budget increases spending of 2.36%, while the homeowner’s tax levy rises 3.15%. The maximum allowable tax increase for the district is 3.48%. Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ said through the application of $215,000 from the debt service fund the proposed levy increase was kept to 3.15%.

The recording of the forum can be viewed on YouTube here.

According to Dr. Champ, the proposed budget “maintains student instructional, extracurricular and athletic programs, meets board of education class size guidelines, provides for academic and social-emotional needs of students and reallocates staff to provide important supports,” including an intervention specialist as both Siwanoy and Colonial schools and a technology teacher at the elementary level.

On the topic of the use of the district’s reserves, Champ said some was used to minimize the tax increase, but the district planned to put more towards future spending because of continued economic volatility and potential cuts to state aid.

Champ explained what would happen if voters rejected the budget. The board could put the same budget out to vote again, or reduce the budget before putting it out for a revote, she said. If the budget were to fail a second time, school trustees would have to put a contingency budget into place, which would maintain all expenditures at the level of the current budget. Champ said that a contingency budget would put the district at a $2 million disadvantage, which would ultimately result in personnel cuts and reductions in educational services.

The school election is being entirely by mail. Ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on June 9. Residents should be receiving their ballots in the next few days.

DeDomenico and Childs, current board president and vice president, respectively, are seeking re-election after each serving one three-year term. The forum for the two candidates was moderated by Pelham Council of PTAs President Beth Blanc.

Both candidates endorsed the 2020-21 budget. DeDomenico said that although the spending plan does not expand educational services as past budgets have, she is proud of the way it was developed in order to maintain the services already provided by the district. Childs explained that the budget “strategically uses reserves,” as the district prepares for “a school year unlike any other,” as state funding will likely stay minimal.

DeDomenico and Childs both expressed their deep belief in the importance of public schooling and hope to continue giving back to the Pelham community.

One question submitted by a resident criticized the district’s distance learning program at the elementary level.

DeDomenico said distance learning is not perfect, especially at the elementary level, where Google Classroom and other online platforms were used significantly less than in the middle and high schools prior to the Covid-19 crisis. She said the district has been in frequent contact with administrators from other districts and that Pelham’s program is on par with programs across the region. Both DeDomenico and Childs agreed that programming more similar to the middle and high schools will be needed at the elementary level in the fall.

Childs said the district needs to be prepared for a variety of scenarios in the fall, including continued distance learning and a hybrid between in-person and online teaching.

A board of education meeting included more detailed information on the budget and the vote.